‘Head Start’ officially launched

The United Native Friendship Centre’s Aboriginal Head Start program held its grand opening on Monday, celebrating the program that was first launched in Fort Frances as a summer program in 1996.
“Fort Frances was one of the first Aboriginal Head Start summer programs in all of Canada,” noted Rhonda Evans of the Public Health Agency of Canada who was on hand for the opening.
Now, with $260,000 in government funding, the UNFC has been able to put together a full-time program for pre-school children.
After the funding was announced in 2003, Fort Frances was selected as a site, noted Evans.
“Everyone worked really, really hard to develop this project,” she added.
AHS is for children up to age six and prepares them for kindergarten.
The program focuses on six central components: culture and language, education, health promotion, nutrition, social support, and parental and family involvement.
There is a strong emphasis on culture and language in a safe and nurturing environment.
“Looking out at all of you here, I feel a sense of pride and belonging,” said program coordinator Charity Calder to the parents and community members assembled for the ceremony.
Both the UNFC and Footprints drumming circles performed during the event, and elder Bessie Mainville gave the program its Ojibway name.
The name she chose, after much reflection, was Zaagi’ Di Win, meaning “love.”
Calder and UNFC Executive Director Sheila McMahon also unveiled the program’s logo, including four children in red, black, white, and yellow, colours representing the four directions. The logo also features seven feathers, representing the Seven Teachings—respect, love, honesty, courage, humility, wisdom, and truth.
In addition to a coordinator, the program has a number of other staff including a teacher, and a parent council. AHS is located on Butler Avenue, in what was formerly the Calvary Tabernacle Church.
The UNFC took possession of the building last March, and the program started up in January.