Photo By GJ McCarthy / MPW.57

Many things are important to Connie Hardin, not the least of which is family. A coordinator for the Brunswick Street Head Start Program center, she has grown to love, as family, the children, parents and coworkers that make up the federal child assistant program; for her own husband and children, Connie's love is even deeper.

She believes strongly in Head Start, in its ability to help both children and their parents, offering a real chance at overcoming obstacles and helping to create a healthy family unit.

Connie was introduced to the program more than a decade ago, when financial difficulties made it necessary to enroll her children. As with many Head Start parents, she was encouraged to take an active role in the program, and soon she began working as a cook at the Brunswick Street center. Some twelve years later, she now oversees the center's activities, a role that has her wearing many hats; it is not uncommon to find her filling in for an absent cook or driver, helping to administer tests, or even stopping to change a flickering, fluorescent hallway light bulb.

Her lengthy tenure at the center has left her with a strong desire not only to lead her staff, but assist them whenever possible. "Because I did the job for years, I know how hard it is," Connie says. "If I can make their lives their lives a little easier, I will." Connie adds that her main motivation for sticking with Head Start -- the thing that keeps her coming back each and every day -- is the feeling of repaying the program that assisted her so greatly in a time of need. "Head Start helped me, and I feel like I should be here to help other people too," she says. "I feel like I'm giving something back."

In contrast, the choices Connie's children are making with their own lives have given her pause. William, her only son, is a member of the Army Reserve; much to Connie's chagrin, he wishes to be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. Most recently, Lora has also chosen to enlist in service, signing up with the Missouri National Guard with the hope of being a chaplain's assistant, a position that will likely mean deployment. "With my son, it was the right thing -- I didn't mind," Connie says. "With her, she's my baby."

At home, Connie's nature is every bit as maternal and nurturing as it is at Head Start. Between her long workday at the center and ongoing studies for an associates degree, the mother of three always makes time for her family -- cooking meals for her husband, Randy, and 17-year-old daughter Lora, and taking every opportunity to communicate with them. She takes pride in her supportive and open relationships with Randy and her children, two of whom now live on their own. Connie notes that her own childhood was "the pits," and that the choices she has made in life have grown from her desire to provide a better life for her children.