Local social worker chosen for N.C. honor
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 9, 2013 1:46 PM
Every weekday morning, like clockwork, Haneefa Best steps out of her office to greet parents and children arriving at the Chestnut Street Center.
Whenever possible, she also enjoys visits to the Early Head Start and Head Start classrooms -- maybe because she was once a Head Start student, at what was then Carver Center in Mount Olive.
"I remember the bus coming by to pick me up," she said. "I think I was 3 years old. ...
"Head Start has grown so much. We only had one site, in Mount Olive, and now we have seven sites."
When it was originally launched nationwide in 1965, Head Start was designed as a "catch-up" program to teach low-income children what they needed to know for kindergarten. The Head Start Act of 1981 expanded the program, which is now one of the longest-running programs to address poverty in the nation.
The N.C. Head Start Association, or NCHSA, represents close to 60 Head Start programs across the state, serving more than 21,000 children from birth to age 5 in all 100 counties.
WAGES, or Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency, operates the local Head Start and Early Head Start centers as well as eight other human services programs. Early Head Start caters to children from birth to age 3, while Head Start children are between the ages of 3 and 5.
The Chestnut Street Center, where Ms. Best is a family social worker, is a four-star child care center.
While that location serves about 105 children, her role also includes working with parents and families, she said -- from finding new housing to providing resource information and even guidance on bills and household budgets.
She was recently named the NCHSA Family Advocate of the Year for the state, receiving a trophy, plaque and $1,000 during the organization's annual conference.
Supervisors and a peer committee determine eligibility for the honor. Candidates must have worked in the program for at least three years.
"I started in 2004 but started in 2006 in social work," Ms. Best said. "I started out at Head Start being an Early Head Start teacher, went to Head Start and then became a social worker."
After being named local recipient for the Family Advocate of the Year award, she advanced to being one of five finalists at the state level.
She said she enjoys the daily interaction with the children in the program and watching them learn and thrive.
But the ultimate rewards come from what she is able to do with the entire family.
"To see the outcomes and the goals, families accomplish their goals, because you have to set goals with them -- whether it was getting a high school diploma, getting a new place to live, getting a driver's license, just to see (the children) grow up in Head Start," she said.
"I'm just honored to serve the families here in Wayne County. It just brings joy to me to be able to be an advocate for families, just to try to make a difference in the community. I felt like it was an opportunity to give back to the community because I was a Head Start kid myself."