Worcester Community Action Council, Inc. hosted a grand opening celebration on March 1 at its newly renovated Head Start Center, 116 School Street, Webster. Congressman James P. McGovern, State Senator Ryan Fattman, and State Representative Joseph McKenna were among the guests celebrating the $2.8 million dollar project.

“What an incredible day this is,” said WCAC Executive Director Jill Dagilis. “Through persistent effort and dogged determination by a team of many, we celebrate today. The establishment of this center in the heart of Webster will afford low-income families the opportunity to pursue employment or training while knowing their child is being well-cared for in a center close to home. We are grateful to the many, many people who helped make this project a reality.”

WCAC entered into a 25 year lease with the Town of Webster to renovate the building at 116 School Street, which most recently had served as the Town’s Senior Center. The $2.8 million dollar renovation resulted in the establishment of four Head Start classrooms, including the installation of an elevator, overhaul of the building’s heating/cooling systems, installation of a fire suppression system, as well as significant plumbing, technology and security upgrades.

WCAC received substantial public resources to support the renovation project. In August 2017 the agency was awarded $600,000 through the state’s Early Education & Out of School Time Capital Fund Program along with $500,000 through the Federal Administration of Children & Families, which committed an additional $600,000 to the project in October 2018.

“This is a wonderful day. Our new Head Start site in Webster is an investment in our future that is going to change the lives of countless children in our community for generations to come,” said Congressman Jim McGovern. “Head Start is one of the very best programs we have for breaking the cycle of poverty that prevents far too many students from living up to their God-given potential. For every dollar we invest in Head Start, we see nine dollars in benefits from increased earnings and decreased reliance on government programs. I’m so proud of the work of the Worcester Community Action Council, as well as the partnerships we developed with local, state, federal, and nonprofit leaders to secure funding for this project.”

“As a new father I can certainly relate to the need for quality child care and education. Providing education and safety for our community’s children is of the utmost importance to make sure the future is bright here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said State Senator Ryan Fattman. “My deepest thanks to the staff at the WCAC for all their efforts and hard work, and I am thrilled to be a part of this next chapter for the organization..”

[Submitted photo]

“I couldn’t be more excited to welcome Worcester Community Action Council and this Head Start facility back into Webster! I applaud WCAC’s diligence and persistence through every step and hurdle this project faced,” said State Representative Joseph McKenna. “From negotiating with town officials to raising funds and advocating to the State and Federal Government, this project has represented the perfect case-study for a project where everyone comes together to pull in the same direction. Non-profit advocacy, private investment, and government funding all came through to make this classroom space a reality. The real beneficiaries of this Grand Opening are the families and the children in Webster who will get the ‘head start’ to their education and development that every child deserves.”

“We are pleased that WCAC received $600,000 in state Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Grant (EEOST) funding in 2017 for this important center,” said Theresa Jordan of the Children’s Investment Fund, which administers the EEOST program alongside the Department of Early Education and Care and CEDAC. “The newly-renovated center provides a safe and enriching learning environment, which all children deserve.”

The project represents the largest capital campaign undertaken in the agency’s 54 year history. WCAC gratefully acknowledged the generous private financial support received from the greater community including the Janet Malser Humanities Trust, Webster Five, Randy & Donna Becker, the Remillard Family Foundation, Mary DeFeudis, Wyman Gordon, Steven & Leona Joseph, UNUM, the Berkshire Bank Foundation, Franklin Square House Foundation, Webster-Dudley Food Share, Inc., Dale Allen & Meredith Galena, Strada Educational Network, DCU (Digital Federal Credit Union) and bankHometown. Lamoureaux Pagano Architects provided substantial in-kind support throughout the duration of the project which was managed by Madigan Construction.

“It indeed takes a village to raise a child,” noted WCAC’s Chief Operating Officer Kerry Brennan. “We are truly fortunate and incredibly grateful that so many local individuals and corporations stepped up to support this project.”

The new center features one 18-slot classroom on the lower level, and two 18-slot classrooms and one 17-slot classroom on the first floor (main level) to serve a total of 71 children. The main level has two offices, a reception area, two storage areas, and three bathrooms. The lower level has one classroom, a multi-purpose room, one office, a conference room, a kitchen, and 3 bathrooms. Outside the main level entrance is a 2,700 square foot fenced play area. WCAC hopes to install a play structure and add enhancements to the black-topped play space in the spring.

Webster represents WCAC’s second highest community of need. The cost of child care is a significant barrier for many low-income families, leaving them trapped in a cycle of poverty where they are unable to work due to the unaffordability of quality care. The Head Start program provides developmentally-appropriate curricula, health and nutrition services, breakfast, lunch and snacks, as well as special-education opportunities and critical family support services. Parents are the primary educators of their children and are therefore strongly encouraged to become involved by attending trainings and workshops, volunteering in their children’s classrooms and becoming members of parent-driven committees and the Head Start Policy Council.

Beyond providing much needed early classroom time and care to Webster families and allowing their children to enter the public school system at a higher level of readiness, the improvements increased the value and useful life of the building, which the Town would otherwise be unable to afford. The need for the project stemmed from a FEMA-designated natural disaster, the winter snow storm of 2015, in which an Oxford town-owned building occupied by WCAC experienced severe damage resulting in the emergency evacuation and permanent displacement of 87 children and 15 staff.

WCAC’s Head Start program serves families from the communities of East Brookfield, Leicester, Millbury, Oxford, Spencer, Southbridge and Webster.