Sometimes, you blink, and suddenly, it’s years later.
At least that’s the case for Carrie Buck. Forty-three years, in fact.
“I started working here in 1978,” recalls Buck. “I tell people I’ve been here longer than dirt. When I first started, I said I wouldn’t still be here in 10 years.”
But Buck quickly realized her work serving children and parents in West Tennessee was far more than a job. It’s a calling.
She works for a Southwest Human Resource Agency program called Head Start. In turn, she works for moms, dads, boys and girls when life is good – and especially when it’s tough.
“We facilitate a variety of classes during our Parent Days,” said Buck, who serves as the nonprofit’s family and community partnerships manager. “Our parent curriculum program discusses mental wellness, job readiness, community programs and more. And Kelly and Ron organize and teach our financial education classes.”
Kelly is Kelly Davis, manager of Regions Bank’s Selmer, Tennessee, branch; Ron is Ron Whisenant, consumer banking manager for Regions in West Tennessee. The duo shares financial education with Head Start parents four times a year.
“We typically find the parents listen quietly at first,” said Davis. “But then, they begin to ask questions and share knowledge they’ve gained with each other. My favorite part of teaching is watching a parent have an ‘aha’ moment – seeing them find even one thing they can do differently that can make a big difference.”
Davis and Whisenant discuss topics from Regions’ Next Step curriculum. Next Step materials are available for free to anyone through Regions.com, and the company’s bankers conduct classes through nonprofits, schools and community groups year-round.
At Head Start, Davis and Whisenant focused on money management and saving in the early days. Now, they teach more customized topics based on participant input.
“When we surveyed our parents, we discovered that 59% of them had a financial goal of paying off or consolidating debt,” said Buck. “These sessions help them gain knowledge about saving, budgeting, credit repair and how to avoid high interest rates. It helps them buy things at a better rate. It’s just good.”
And that opens the door for more progress over time.
“The Head Start parents have also requested information on topics like mortgages and retirement,” Davis pointed out. “One of our key messages is that what you do now can change your family’s life, both today and in the future.”
That message complements the goal of Head Start. Gloria Holiday, who’s worked for the Head Start program for 24 years following her retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps, has seen the results when former students pay a visit.
“They ask, ‘Miss Gloria, do you remember me?’” she said. “And I say, ‘You were one of my Head Start babies, weren’t you?’ They have a great beginning at Head Start. I’m glad we had a part in that.”
At any given time, hundreds of families are benefiting from Head Start. Even, and especially, during the pandemic.
“It changed things a lot,” said Buck. “We couldn’t have more than 10 children in class.”
Technology solutions, thanks to federal stimulus efforts, helped. Then, Buck and Holiday noticed a shift.
“We started to have more connection with our parents, and we also saw our parent groups really join together,” said Buck. “Attendance increased with our meetings going virtual. That was one good thing that came out of the pandemic.”
Another benefit – more people signing up for financial education.
“I think the biggest difference COVID-19 created was the ability to share information electronically,” Davis said. “We were able to reach more people to let them know we care and that we’ll continue to find ways to provide them with financial advice, guidance and education to help them.”
It’s that same caring spirit Buck and Holiday show their Head Start family. As Buck prepares to retire in October, she reflects on a career that’s passed by quicker than she ever imagined.
“So many times, parents attend a training, and you hope they gain something valuable from it,” said Buck. “If we can share something lasting they take with them, then we’ve made a difference.”
Holiday will stay on as Buck departs. And she’s committed to ensuring the good work of the past 43 years continues as new families enroll in the program.
“Miss Carrie has created a great standard and legacy here at Head Start,” said Holiday. “My goal is to pick up the torch and carry on that legacy as she retires, because what we do here at Head Start each and every day is for our children and families. Choosing to work for Head Start is the best move I ever made.”
Decades later, Buck and Holiday would do it all again. In the blink of an eye.