FORT MILL — Maybe it was the warm smell of breakfast from a nearby pushcart, or the warmth of an entryway a dozen or more degrees more hospitable than the outside air.
Whatever it was, more students than not sure looked happy to be at Head Start Thursday morning.
None were happier than Curala Powell. She’s the director of the center in the Avery Lake community that brings six employees and 31 preschoolers together five times a week. Powell also is the one who spent several days planning for what turned out to be two days off, courtesy of the federal government shutdown.
“It was very disappointing, surprising, but we were still hoping,” Powell said.
Staff and parents began making preparations for a looming shutdown two weeks ago. On Monday and Tuesday, the center was closed. It reopened Wednesday after a private, $10 million donation from a Texas couple made up for the lacked federal funding in six states.
“Just to have someone to think so much of us, it not only impacts the children but also the staff,” Powell said, after learning of the donation from her Facebook feed. “They see value. They could have donated that money to any organization.”
Carli Rogers is one parent who’s glad the donation came to Head Start. Her son attends the Fort Mill preschool and Rogers volunteers on the policy council. Parents collected email addresses and sent messages home on the school bus to try and prepare for a shutdown of indeterminate length.
“It was a shock,” Rogers said. “It was kind of stressful.”
Many parents in the program work or attend school. Rogers is a substitute preschool teacher at Lake Wylie Lutheran Church. That job runs on the same schedule as Head Start.
“If I don’t have my schedule open, I can’t work there,” Rogers said.
Head Start includes four York County schools, serving children whose families meet low income thresholds or children with special needs. Nationally, seven programs in six states shut down for the two business days between the government closure and Texas donation. More than 7,000 children were impacted. Upwards of 11,000 more risk missing days if the shutdown lasts through October. If it lasts into November, another 86,000 children in 41 states and a U.S. territory would be impacted.
In a statement, National Head Start Association executive director Yasmina Vinci called the Texas couple, Laura and John Arnold, “angel investors” for their $10 million gift, but said a government resolution is still needed. Such donors “cannot possibly offer a sustainable solution” to meeting the needs of all Head Start children and families, Vinci said.
For Powell, worrying how long the shutdown will last isn’t a main priority. When she was told to open her doors Wednesday she did, and that’s what she’ll keep on doing.
“Operate as normal until we hear different,” Powell said.
Powell isn’t shy about saying how she operates as normal, which includes a good bit of prayer and praise. So she’ll continue praying for yet warmer days ahead.
“It’s always good to have hope,” she said. “I’m a praying person. The sun is always going to shine on the other side.”