Darst to retire after 42 years with Head Start
Brittany Wise Reporter
Cathy Darst, Executive Director of Grayson-Breckinridge Head Start Programs, will be retiring this month after 42 years of loving service.
Darst began as a teacher at the center in 1971, and quickly moved up the ranks to become a fearless leader and advocate for not only our local program, but early education centers across the nation.
“I’ve never come in here without feeling happy to be here,” Darst said, as she floated from room to room, smiling and hugging staff, students and visitors.
Darst is as proud of her hand-picked staff as she is of the building they have created for the children and families that they serve.
The walls of the center are covered in murals, pieces of art, and hand-written messages and quotes. Birds fly in the aviary and fish swim in an aquarium and koi pond on the lower floor. Lights twinkle in a mock solar system, classrooms boast lofts and butterflies hover over bathroom sinks. Personal touches are also hidden throughout the creative decor.
Darst has overseen each of these projects, and explained that exposure to the arts is important for early childhood development.
“I’m big on order,” she said. “You can have order and love. And you’ve got to have beauty, too.”
Darst also pointed out that she has strived to touch not only the lives of children in the program, but of their entire families. She said that more than half of her current staff members were at one point either students or parents of students at the facility, which serves very low-income pre-schoolers.
A strong believer that people can accomplish whatever they put their mind and effort into, Darst said that she is always excited when her students and their families achieve their goals.
Darst’s staffers all pointed to her attention to detail and expectation of excellence as well as her dedication to bettering the lives of others as playing significant roles in the center’s excellent outcomes.
“She’s a very strong advocate for not only head start, but for serving families in need,” LaShawn Cole-Hack said. “She has a real servant’s heart, and has her thumb on the pulse of what’s going on in politics, which has allowed us to have what we have today.”
“She looks at the big picture,” Roberta Payne added, “is transparent, and is always proactive. We get our center and our children ready ahead of any upcoming changes in the system.”
“She has been my role model,” Payne said, “and I have such a great respect for the leadership she has provided.”
Darst will be serving out the remainder of the year as Executive Director before giving up her post to retire on January 1, 2014.
She said that she is looking forward to spending time with her husband, and already has some new service projects in mind.
“It’s going to be a change for her, but we’re always encouraging her,” Cole-Hack said. “She’s a missionary at heart, and she will find somewhere else to give her time.”
In addition to crediting her staff for actively enriching the lives of the children and families who take part in the program, Darst gave a great deal of credit to our community. “Our community is probably one of the best in the nation for generosity. We’ve been given so much.”
Not one to take the credit for herself, Darst gave the ultimate thanks to a higher power. “I give God the glory,” she said. “He is in control. I’ve never had anything that he hasn’t provided for the families.”
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