Volunteers give program and its participants a head start
“OK. We can use another girl,” volunteer Nancy Verhoeven called out to teachers singing in the hallway with children waiting their turn.
After returning to the classroom, Verhoeven—known as “Miss Nancy” by the children—took a seat at the child-size table with four girls.
“I like oatmeal,” one of the girls said as Verhoeven uncovered the bowl and began serving them.
“What’s the matter honey?” she asked another girl, who was trying to remove her hooded sweatshirt.
The 72-year-old Janesville woman has been volunteering at Head Start for 13 years. In the beginning, she served on the board of directors. But she began working with the children after retiring as a bank mortgage loan officer.
“It was a natural progression,” said Verhoeven, who works 10 hours a week with the 3- to 5-year-olds at the program’s Janesville site in St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.
Head Start has several ways volunteers can help and always needs volunteers such as Verhoeven, who is a classroom helper.
“Ideally, it would be great to have a volunteer in each of our 21 classrooms,” said Cheryl Hutchison, family and community partnerships team leader.
But that’s not happening. She blames state licensing requirements that volunteers who have direct contact with students must get a TB test, pass a physical and clear a background check.
The in-depth process is necessary, she said.
“We are strict. But if we do this, we excel in child safety and know who is in our classroom with our children,” she said.
Verhoeven said she was not insulted when asked to meet requirements.
“You do not want anyone in the classroom with a felony conviction, and you don’t want the child to get anything (disease),” Verhoeven said.
Verhoeven said it took her less than 10 minutes to fill out the background check, which Hutchison forwards to the state of Bureau of Identification.
“We’re looking for any criminal record or child care licensing offenses,” Hutchison said.
“It’s worth the cost,’’ she said of the $4 fee Head Start pays.
Head Start depends on volunteers and donated space. The federal government provides 80 percent of its operating dollars but mandates the program get the other 20 percent from the community.
Volunteers, such as Verhoeven, “provide an extra person in the classroom to interact with the children, allowing for more one-on-one conversation and attention. They can also assist the teacher with preparing projects and implementing projects,” Hutchison said.
“We’re their constant in life,’’ Verhoeven said. “They’ll hug you and tell you they love you. You know you are making a difference.’’