Mustang Heroes give a helping hand
Published: Thursday, December 8, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
As the preschoolers sang "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" to the crowd of parents and teachers, they glanced at the pile of gifts under the small, decorated tree in the corner, waiting in anticipation to open what Santa had brought them.
Christmas came early this year, not from a jolly old man in a red suit, but from a group of college students.
SMU's Mustang Heroes service group presented 77 coat-and-toy gifts to preschool age children at the Science Place location of Head Start of Greater Dallas Thursday. Head Start of Greater Dallas, an independent non-profit that is under the umbrella of the national Head Start program, provides early childhood development and health services to over 4,200 disadvantaged children at 35 locations in the Dallas area.
"Without the Mustang Heroes this couldn't have been possible because we're a non-profit agency and we can't afford to buy every single child a gift," Head Start's Science Place Site Manager Kenyatta Henderson said. "With this today, they give everybody [here] a chance to at least have something for Christmas."
The children that participate in the Head Start Program are in families that meet the federal guidelines for poverty status. Sixty-two percent of Head Start families are single parent families, and 68 percent of the parents are employed.
Mustang Heroes collected the gifts, which were specific coat and toy requests, from SMU students, parents and church members to donate to the children of the Head Start program. The group has been working with the program since the spring.
Tyler Scott, the project development chair for Mustang Heroes, said that about half of the gifts came from the members of Shoreline Dallas, a church that many members of the service group go to on Sundays. The other gifts came from Mustang Heroes members and SMU students that heard about the project.
To get the word out about upcoming projects, weekly service activities and meetings, Scott said the organization utilizes social media tools like Facebook and Twitter.
"If we didn't have Facebook to promote things or to advertise Mustang Heroes, I don't know if 70 percent of the people involved would even know about it," Scott said, indicating how powerful social media is in the college atmosphere.
Mustang Heroes was founded last year by freshmen of the class of 2014 at SMU. Founder and President Daniel Poku said that the service group has grown from its beginnings a year and a half ago.
"Our member turn out is pretty strong," Poku said. At first, the group only worked with one agency, Head Start. Now the group works with Head Start, Family Gateway and the KIPP Truth Academy on a weekly basis.
Poku said that Head Start is their most mature project because of the strength of their relationship with the agency. Poku hopes to further develop their other projects so they can do something like the Christmas gift event with the other agencies.
"These projects are aimed toward developing and creating relationships with the families and a better relationship with the agency," Poku said.
Henderson said that she wants the partnership with Mustang Heroes "to last for a lifetime." She also said that the organization benefits from having as many volunteers as possible because they have to meet a certain amount of volunteer hours per month.
These volunteer hours turn into dollars, with $13.86 being generated by volunteers for each hour of their service, according to Henderson.
Since Head Start of Greater Dallas is federally funded, 25 percent of their income, about $8 million, has to be generated through non-federal sources like donations, state grants, private grants and volunteers, both parent and community. Head Start of Greater Dallas receives approximately $34 million from the federal government annually.
Henderson said if Science Place falls short of volunteers, Head Start of Greater Dallas as a whole would not be able to meet their non-federal income requirement. This could cause the government to cut their funding and therefore fewer children will be able to participate in the program.
Volunteers are an important part of Head Start, and according to the Head Start of Greater Dallas website, many children are still in need. The organization serves more than 4,200 children and their families, but the waiting list reached over 2,000 children earlier this year.
The group of children that Head Start of Greater Dallas serves is a diverse group. Fifty-four percent of the children are Hispanic, 40 percent are African American, 2 percent are White, 1 percent are Asian and 3 percent are other races and nationalities.
Families must meet the federal poverty guidelines to apply for Head Start. For example, a family of four whose annual income is $22,350 or less is considered in poverty.
According to an NBC DFW online article posted in November, President Obama recently announced that Head Start prekindergarten centers "can no longer count on the automatic renewal for their funding."
Wanda Smith, Head Start of Greater Dallas CEO, said in the article that the organization is ready for the new regulations and doing what it can to make sure the services that they provide are quality services.
SMU freshman Lauren Packer is also doing what she can to help Head Start. Packer said volunteering her time to help out with these children is a "way to relieve stress."
Poku said his hope is that Mustang Heroes inspires a vision of "a lasting, sustainable and impactful change" to the SMU community.