Today we celebrate another quiet success story of the Head Start program: Amy Sell. Amy grew up in Wisconsin amid challenging financial circumstances, and today lives in Florida, where she is a General Liability Analyst for a supermarket chain. Amy shared her story with Our Head Start, a social media campaign highlighting how Head Start and other quality early childhood programs put at-risk young children on a trajectory for success. Amy – who liked to call herself “Amy T.” as a child; read on to find out why – inspired us.

On Feb. 7, Carol Jenkins Barnett, President and Chairman of Publix Super Markets Charities, presented Amy with an iPad for her contribution to raising awareness about the importance of quality early childhood education. Children from the United Way Center for Excellence In Education, Educare Miami-Dade, created a heartwarming “congratulations” card for Amy. You can watch the presentation here.

Amy’s remarks at Tuesday’s presentation demonstrate that the skills children develop in Head Start stay with them long after their time in the program is over:

When I started Head Start, my parents ran a dairy farm in Wisconsin and they were hardworking, responsible, and cared for their children. However, the agricultural economy at the time did not facilitate access to exactly top-notch health care. Therefore, having a childhood ear infection resulted in considerable hearing problems in my first few years, which set me back with respect to social and communication skills. I don’t remember that, though. I remember pretending to be well when I was sick so that I could see Ms. Carla, Ms. Karen, Mr. Paul, the speech therapist, and my classmates. I remember that they allowed me to label my projects “Amy T.” because I wanted to be like Mr. T: popular, powerful, and strong enough to take on anything. The opposite of the little girl I was.

The socialization and communication skills I gained in Head Start have allowed me to make the most of my academic potential and consequently allowed me more career options than I would have had otherwise. Head Start also imparted a positive attitude toward learning and gave me and my family evidence that things could be better, which is about the most important thing that anyone can give another person.

I’m sorry to use the hackneyed phrase, but I do pity the fool who thinks that the first five years are inconsequential and can be fixed or recreated with a Photoshop. My experience at that critical time immeasurably influenced the person I became: not really popular or powerful, but someone strong enough to take on unfavorable circumstances and someone who truly appreciates the value of a chance.

For more than 40 years, Head Start has provided millions of chances to young children and their families experiencing “unfavorable circumstances.” Millions more go unserved, simply because Congress has decided we can’t quite afford the investment. Amy Sell is a living example of how that early investment pays dividends not only for the lifetime of one little girl, but also for the educational, health and economic future of our nation.

Please encourage other professionals who were Head Start alums to contribute their own stories to Our Head Start.