The History of the Pennsylvania Head Start Association

Concerned with the Head Start program’s efficacy, the federal Head Start Bureau sought feedback early on from Pennsylvania’s Head Start community. At first, a group of parents and administrators from Pennsylvania formed an informal group to share experiences and information among themselves and to offer suggestions to the Head Start Bureau. Eventually, three separate organizations were created to meet networking needs within the Head Start community. The Pennsylvania Head Start Parents’ Association, the Pennsylvania Head Start Staff Association and the Pennsylvania Head Start Administrators’ Association joined together loosely to work together through an umbrella organization, the Pennsylvania Head Start Association (PHSA). The work of the state association was carried out completely by the volunteers who served on the Board or as members of the affiliate organizations.

In 1995 and 1996, the PHSA Association Boards worked to redesign the structure of the Associations to create a stronger organization that could speak with one voice for the Head Start Community in Pennsylvania. In January of 1997, the three affiliate organizations dissolved and united as a single Pennsylvania Head Start Association. The Board of Directors consists of representatives of programs around the state and includes eleven parents, six staff, six administrators, and six friends.

The need for non-volunteer Association staff grew as the Pennsylvania Head Start community’s information, training, and advocacy needs grew. In 1994, PHSA hired its first staff: a part-time Special Projects Director and a part-time Special Projects Assistant. These positions were supported in part by grants and by membership dues. Not long after, the staff, administrators, and parents associations were beginning to realize that the needs of Head Start programs and families could better be served if there was a unified voice for Head Start across the state, channeled through PHSA.

In the fall of 1996, a three-year special voluntary assessment program was instituted to raise a significant amount of money to support full-time staff and an office. These funds supplemented, membership dues and grants to build a stable financial foundation for a state office. In November, 1997, the PHSA Board hired an Executive Director, Kathy Yorkievitz. As the workload of the office grew, an Administrative Assistant, Amy Johnson, was hired in 1998.  After serving as a social work intern at PHSA, Dan Lembo was hired in 1999 as the PHSA Research and Policy Associate/Technical Specialist.  In April of 2003, Kathy left PHSA to become the Deputy Secretary for DPW the Office of Income Maintenance, and Dan Lembo became the PH5A Executive director.  Daniel Lembo stopped working as the Executive Director in December of 2003.  After having done an extensive search, in October of 2004 PHSA hired Blair Hyatt as its new Executive Director.  In February of 2006, Karen Grimm-Thomas joined PHSA as the part time Associate Director.  The PHSA state office represents the parents, staff, administrators, and friends of Head Start at the state and national levels.

In 2008 PHSA partnered with PACCA and OCDEL to create Pennsylvania’s first Early Child Summit.  The Summit has become a success annual event bringing together leaders, staff and parents to learn and develop skills and programs together.

The Pennsylvania Head Start Association continues to grow and currently has a membership of over 80 Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Pennsylvania. PHSA works to influence state and federal policymakers to make changes needed to improve the lives of Head Start-eligible families. The Association also serves as an information resource for the Head Start community. PHSA works with other statewide and national advocacy organizations to promote policy changes that will positively impact the lives of children, especially low-income children.