October is Head Start Awareness Month, a month when we celebrate the one-million-plus children, from birth to 5 years old, that Head Start serves every year across the country. This comprehensive early education program for children from at-risk backgrounds gives them the building blocks needed so they can be successful both in school and in life.
Children First holds the distinction of being a four-time designated Head Start “Program of Excellence” and has been ranked in the top 1% out of more than 1,800 Head Starts nationwide.
Head Start alumnus Angela De La Rosa works at Children First, directing its Families First Institute. But, Angela was introduced to Head Start when, as a four year old, she attended a Head Start program in North Bergen, New Jersey.
Angela’s father, who was an accountant, immigrated from Cuba in the late 1960s, and her mom, who was 18, from the Dominican Republic. Though her parents were later separated, the family remained close and grew to include a loving stepmother and stepfather.
At birth, Angela’s doctors called her a miracle baby. Due to delivery complications, she was born not breathing and had to be resuscitated.
Her family wanted the best life for her possible, and when they discovered their local Head Start program, Angela was immediately enrolled.
“I attended the North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC) Head Start program in 1983 and 1984, when I was 4 and 5 years old,” Angela explained. “I remember so many things. My teachers’ names were Miss Joanne and Miss Olivia. I remember being picked up by the bus, the family-style meals, my classmates… I have many happy memories of those times,” she said.
Angela graduated from high school and enrolled at New Jersey City University. Although she didn’t complete her bachelor’s degree at the time, Angela earned her computer programming certification before returning to work for the same Head Start program she had attended as a child.
From the time she was very young, Angela knew she wanted to work with children. “I started as a Teacher’s Assistant in the Early Head Start program, and it was wonderful as I have always loved little children and babies,” she said. “It was a great learning experience, and it helped me see the value of the experiences I had when I was receiving these services.”
She learned that she also enjoyed interacting with the families, especially those in the Hispanic community. “In the end, I realized that working with the families is what is going to help the children,” she said.
Angela was then promoted to Program Assistant in 2005. Simultaneous to career advancement, NHCAC supported Angela’s education. Her friends and colleagues, Maria and Leslie, also known as her “work moms,” encouraged her to go back to school and finish her degree.
In December 2018, just before her 30th birthday, Angela returned to New Jersey City University and earned her bachelor’s degree in social services.
Once she had her degree, she knew she wanted to move into family advocacy. The Head Start program next to where she was working had an opening, so she applied. Over the next 14 years, Angela worked her way up from Family Advocate to Family and Community Engagement Supervisor, and finally to Health Specialist.
After Angela’s grandniece moved to Florida, she decided to follow suit. It was then she discovered Children First and accepted an open position as a Family Advocate in January of 2022.
“I knew right away that the people at Children First cared so much for the children they serve, their families, and their staff,” Angela said. “I have been so lucky in my career. The staff became my work family as soon as I arrived. I feel very blessed.”
Since last September, Angela has been the manager of Children First’s Families First Institute.
“We offer the parents of our children a variety of classes, in both English and Spanish, that will move them toward self-sufficiency,” Angela said. These include Budgeting and Family Finances, Job Skills Training, Positive Solutions for Families, Circle of Security, English as a Second Language, and Nurturing Dads.
“Head Start’s services are so important today,” she said. “Following Covid, so many children fell behind,” she said. “And it’s not just the children. Parents have also been under tremendous stress, with situations like both parents working, single-parent households, and the extreme rise in the cost of living. Children First remains steadfast for our children and families, giving them the tools and resources they need for success.”
Although Angela does not have children of her own, back in New Jersey, while working as a Parent and Family Community Engagement Specialist, people would ask her how many children she had. “I used to say 122, because that was our Early Head Start enrollment,” Angela said. “In my heart, they were all my children.”
“I treasure my experience with Head Start. There is a saying I learned: ‘Once you work for Head Start, you will never leave.’ And for me, that’s true.”