More than 200 students dressed up in Halloween costumes at the Rock Hill Head Start center on Thursday. There were police officers and fire chiefs and ballerinas and doctors.
They played games and had plenty of fun outdoors at their fall festival, too.
It is the same program – one of eight Head Start centers that serve 834 kids in York, Chester, Lancaster and Union counties – that lost two days to the October government shutdown as politicians in both parties argued over health care.
What saved this Head Start, and a few others across the nation, was not any politician of either party.
It was a $10 million private donation from Texas billionaire philanthropists John and Laura Arnold.
Head Start is pre-kindergarten, paid for with taxpayer dollars, for families poor enough to qualify.
Nobody at the fall festival Thursday said anything about struggling to make a living and raising kids at the same time. They just smiled and laughed and cheered for these kids who want to learn.
Joy knows no income. Joy knows no race. Just like learning knows no income and no race.
Except when there are no classes when the money that pays the bills dries up, as it did during the shutdown – until the Arnolds’ donation arrived.
“Head Start, for some kids and families, is all they have to get a child ready for school,” teacher Ashley Jackson said. “Every teacher and every child and every parent here says ‘thank you’ to the Arnolds.”
Head Start staff helped each class thank the Arnolds for generosity that did not come from politicians who decided that a political fight was worth little kids losing out on education.
The words from these tiny kids learning to write are stunning.
One note was written in black crayon by a 4-year-old child.
“Thank you so much for helping me further my education,” the note read. “May God bless you and your family.”
Another note, also handwritten by a 4-year-old, read, “Thank you for the chance to learn and succeed in life.”
There are two full scrapbooks of notes from these students who had to thank strangers in Texas for doing the job that politicians refused to do.
“We are so proud of these children,” said Kim Gray, site director for the Rock Hill Head Start center. “And when we say ‘thank you’ for the gift that helped us, we mean it.”
Back outside at the festival, dozens of parents who took time off from jobs volunteered to help run the kids’ games and events.
“My daughter has come so far so soon,” Laquanna Williamson said of 3-year-old Yarya. “Her letters. Her numbers.”
Yarya’s teacher, Laura Combs – dressed Thursday as Cat Lady – said the girl’s progress has been “amazing.” All the children have progressed, she said.
“We teach here,” Combs said.
Another parent, father Dontay Tinnin, shook his head at the shutdown that affected children such as his son, Jynoah, 3.
“These kids deserve better than to be treated like that,” Tinnin said.
On Wednesday evening in Rock Hill, at York Technical College’s Baxter Hood Center, U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, will hold a town hall meeting that is open to the public.
A Mulvaney spokesperson said he plans to address the shutdown in his remarks and is willing to take questions from the audience about it.
Mulvaney, a proud and unapologetic tea party conservative who has won two straight elections in landslides, has talked often and publicly about the shutdown that he was in favor of. He also voted against ending the shutdown and has spoken about that, too.
He has told the media and public that the shutdown did have people who were hurt, but overall, the stance was “worth it.”
But nobody at Head Start Thursday – where teaching days were missed because of the shutdown and were only saved by a private donation – seemed to think the shutdown was worth it.
And 4-year-olds in Head Start classes do not vote, either, and probably will not attend any town hall meeting.
Their parents might. Some might go and listen.
But not until after “thank you” scrapbooks are sent not to any politician of either political party, but to strangers in Texas.