Champaign County Head Start 809 N Neil St Champaign  IL 61820 217-384-1200


Head Start is a federal program that provides “educational, health, nutritional, social and other services” to income eligible children and their families.  Head Start was formed on the recommendation of a 1965 panel convened by Sargent Shriver, the “architect” of Lyndon Johnson's “War on Poverty.”  Johnson, himself a former teacher, viewed Head Start as a key component of his domestic policy, seeing that education as essential to breaking the cycle of poverty. (Head Start History)  After his presidency, he was known to make frequent visits to his local Head Start center in Stonewall, Texas. (Mills 1998)

Head Start has served Champaign County continuously since 1965, and currently provides services to 476 local families.  A particular strength of Champaign County Head Start (CCHS) is its strong Early Head Start Program, which serves infants, toddlers, and pregnant mothers.

Head Start came to Champaign-Urbana in 1964, when Merle Karnes and Margaret Stillwell submitted a grant for a Head Start program.  The program began the next year, with Stillwell as director.  In 1968, the Economic Opportunity Council (EOC), a local nonprofit, became the grantee for Champaign County Head Start (CCHS).(History)

Beginning with the 1969 inclusion of a Rantoul location under its grant, CCHS began to grow geographically.  In 1971, the sponsorship changed to the Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana.  In fall of 1977, no local agency stepped forward to assume sponsorship of the program.  As a result, the grantee designation again changed, this time to East Central Illinois Community Action in Danville. (Monson 1998)  March Buchanan served as director until the fall of 1994, and under her leadership, enrollment grew steadily from 200 to 418.

In 1994, Champaign County became the program sponsor, returning the administration of CCHS to a local entity.  The collaboration between CCHS and the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission (RPC) got off to a good start, with a review by the federal government noting a smooth transition between grantees.  However, tensions soon arose, especially when a $100,000 contract with the Urban League of Champaign County was suddenly canceled, leading to allegations of mismanagement.  Another point of contention was the lack of African-American administrators in the program, despite its predominantly African-American work force and service base.

Despite these challenges, Champaign County Head Start continued to expand its services.  The county received the first Early Head Start grant in 1997 under the direction of Head Start Director, Al Griggs. In 1998, the program received funding that allowed CCHS to provide full-day services year-round. (Monson 1998b)  In the same year, Kathleen Liffick became the director of CCHS.  In 2001, CCHS received a grant for an additional 17 children to collaborate with the Urbana Early Childhood program, raising enrollment to 435.

In 2010, CCHS received $810,000 from federal stimulus money to expand its Early Head Start services.  This expansion reduced the waiting list of 150 by about 50 families.

Today, funding remains a chief concern.  Even after $2.1 billion in additional funds for Head Start nationwide were included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, demand far outweighs supply as hundreds of families remain on CCHS's waiting lists. (Wolf 2009)  However, with a new grant focusing on its science curriculum and its continued efforts with its Early Head Start program, CCHS continues to be able to fill an obvious need in this community. (Heckel 2011)

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Heckel, Jodi. "Champaign County Head Start gets $102,500 grant for science, book programs." News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, IL), May 11, 2011.

Mills, Kay. Something Better for My Children: the History and People of Head Start. New York: Dutton, 1998.

Monson, Mike. "Head Start Keeping Head above Water." News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, IL), January 25, 1998.

Monson, Mike. "Head Start Gets New Director." News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, IL), June 18, 1998.

Champaign County Head Start/Early Head Start, "2010 Annual Report." Last modified October 18, 2010. Accessed September 18, 2011.

Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, "History." Accessed September 29, 2011.

Pennsylvania Head Start Association, "Head Start History: 1965–Present." Accessed October 1, 2011.

Wolf, Ailis Aaron. National Head Start Association, "NHSA Statement on $2.1 Billion in Stimulus Package." Last modified January 15, 2009. Accessed October 4, 2011.