By Terry Dean
Oak Park's already splintered Head Start program has taken another blow as some 30 kids are no longer receiving services at a neighborhood daycare center.
It was just a year ago that Head Start was looking for a new home for its roughly 60 children after its longtime headquarters at 44 W. Madison, formerly owned by the now-shuttered Park National Bank, was sold. The Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA), a federally-funded program, was the property's renter. CEDA also funded Head Start, which ending up splitting services to two Oak Park locations — Hephzibah Children's Association on North Boulevard and Creative Children's Daycare on North Avenue.
While the program at Hephzibah is thriving, the one at Creative is no longer in service. On May 14, the program was forced to shut down after not receiving its contracted funding from CEDA.
Creative had not received any reimbursements since February or March of this year despite repeated pleas from the daycare. Not only has CEDA not paid Creative but also owes Lakeview Bus Company, which provides bus service for the Head Start kids, more than $500,000. Lakeview, which is headquartered in Bellwood, informed Creative in April that it could no longer provide bus service for Head Start.
Unable to pay her staff, Dyanna Hughes, director of Creative Children's Daycare, informed CEDA last month that she had no other options other than to discontinue the program and informed the agency to promptly pick up its classroom materials and office equipment. Calls to Hughes were not immediately returned. But she told Channel 2 News last week that she would "never have CEDA in my program again. It's too stressful."
The partial demise of Head Start in Oak Park prompted Village President David Pope to speak out about it at the village board meeting two weeks ago.
"It was shocking and disturbing to learn that the Head Start program that serves children and families in our community has not been paid in accordance with a contract [Hughes] signed with CEDA," Pope told Wednesday Journal Monday.
Pope said he has spoken to Hughes, and he is also concerned about the kids who are no longer being served. Pope said his understanding is that CEDA ran out of money as its fiscal year came to a close in late March.
"Ms. Hughes had to stop serving those kids on May 14 because CEDA refused to respond after many emails and inquiries requesting that it provide payment, as they had contracted to do with Creative," Pope said. "We have had discussions with CEDA for years about ensuring that Oak Park has a strong and stable Head Start program to support the needs of at-risk kids in our community."
Head Start has served children and families from Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park for many years.