Karen Fusco admits she likes to play. She can't wait to get to work where she is surrounded with 3, 4 and 5-year-olds who like to play with her.
As a Head Start Family Advocate, she believes every child should have an opportunity to learn but to also have fun.
She began working with Head Start in the West End 19 1/2 years ago for the federally funded Head Start program for 3, 4 and 5 -year-olds of low income families. The West End site is located at the Monroe Plaza along Rt. 209, Brodheadsville.
"By enrolling in Head Start, they have a better chance of graduating, even to some day owning a home," says Karen.
"I was lucky to have a happy childhood. My goal for the students is to have fun. I want these kids to be able to look back and say, 'I had a good time' and if you're three, four and five years old, you should be having a good time."
That's important to Karen because when she looks into some of their faces, she says, "Some of them are older than I am."
She celebrates life all the time with them.
"I'm happy to come to work, to make them happy. I am extremely lucky to have the job I have," she says.
At the Brodheadsville location, it is a preschool and day care. Monday through Friday, the Head Start program is from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., preschool is from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. They serve breakfast and lunch.
The program helps parents also. It helps them apply for a library card, directs them if they need help with their heating bills.
"The parents come and talk among themselves and it helps to hear that everyone is in the same boat. We give them an opportunity to network. A lot don't have families here and need to be heard. I do a lot of listening," says Karen.
Up until April 27, they had 35 children enrolled. After that date, they had 15 children cut from the program because of funding cuts.
"Hopefully we will be back to the full enrollment come fall," Karen says.
There are eight employees at the West End site which includes Karen, two lead teachers, four assistant teachers and a cook.
Recently three West End residents were recognized at the annual meeting and community recognition dinner for Pocono Services for Families and Children of which Head Start is one.
Adele R. Argot of McMichaels was given a special recognition. It was a heartfelt "thank you for being part of our lives and a farewell for your future," Fusco told her.
At the time of the presentation, Argot was the nutrition education adviser for Monroe County's Penn State Cooperative Extension until her retirement, April 30 of this year. She has been associated with Head Start for the last 10 years. She is also a TIMES NEWS correspondent.
"She's everybody's grandmother. She does a lot of things above and beyond what is just part of her day. For example. She learned about two adults with two children, through no fault of their own, on the verge of homelessness. We called every one we knew. Then we called Adele. She called back that she had found a place, but it was small. But it was a home for them. I bet this family will never forget her. She does this all the time for people she never met ... she always comes through," says Fusco.
When Argot went to her cooking classes for Head Start parents, she'd come with bags of items and often gave many cooking utensils, dishes, towels, clothing that she received "from caring folks here or even in other counties via our (her husband Bob and herself) involvement in Lions (Monroe, Schuylkill and Carbon) or I'd refer them to possible human resource entities for help."
Argot said she was dumbfounded and honored to receive the recognition.
"I do sincerely believe that having seen how each site cared not only for the child, but also for the family and got them involved in the total program educationally, such as better child care methods, hands-on physical help and even emotional support, they do good work."
"She's amazing," says Fusco of Argot.
All four daughters of Renard and Michele Cohen attended the Head Start program.
Their oldest, Ariel Cohen, 22, was named Outstanding Former Head Start Student. She attended the program years ago and is now a senior at Hunter College in New York, majoring in psychology with a minor in media. She has helped put herself through school by waitressing at Bubba Shrimp.
"I'm very proud that I won the award. I also feel very lucky to have great parents and a great family. I think I won the award because I have worked very hard at trying to accomplish my goals. Winning the award makes me realize that my hard work does not go unrecognized.
Ariel went to Northampton Community College for two years, maintained good grades while working and living on her own. She transferred to Hunter College in New York City, which is where she has always wanted to live. She has studied abroad in two countries, Turkey and Spain.
"My parents gave me the advantage of preparing myself for school and the world by putting me in Head Start. Children who go to preschool are able to develop more cognitively during those crucial learning periods. I was able to enter school with a benefit over children who did not have the privilege to go to a preschool. I will cherish those days in Head Start. I learned a lot by growing and gaining more knowledge through different experiences. I would encourage anyone with children to place their child in Head Start to give them the full advantage for their potential," says Ariel.
The Cohens' three youngest daughters still live at home. Rhea, 19, is a nursing major at Moravian College. Molly, 17, is a junior in Pleasant Valley's Cyber Academy and Olivia, 15, is a Pleasant Valley High School freshman.
Rhea says she remembers having a lot of fun while attending Head Start and that the teachers were really nice. Molly remembers making Monkey Bread and Silly Putty. Olivia's best memory was a walk in the woods and toasting marshmallows over a campfire.
"It takes exceptional parents to have exceptional children. They let all their children be individuals and they are people who enjoyed being parents," says Fusco.
For that reason, the Cohens received the Outstanding Former Head Start Parents award.
"I really liked the whole community feeling at Head Start. They made us feel special and welcome. In addition to the great education the kids received, we received social support and we loved the classes made available to the parents. The teacher came to the house one day a week to work with us and I really enjoyed that," says Mrs. Cohen, a midwife.
Her husband says that Head Start did a lot for his daughters' self-confidence.
"They felt they could accomplish things. They were supported in their creativity. It all made a difference in their development," says Mr. Cohen.
Karen Fusco's philosophy is that children need to feel secure and confident. They need to feel accepted before they can learn.
"There are many things that are needed to be in place before they hit the doors of kindergarten. Head Start prepares them for that. It meets the needs of each child."