The first five years of a child’s life are essential to their cognitive, physical, and emotional well being. However, for many children in Northwest Indiana, they are not afforded the opportunity to grow and learn during these years due to financial and familial hardships.
Geminus’ Head Start program provides just that - an opportunity for kids in these situations to learn, grown, and prepare themselves for the transition to elementary education. And behind the success of this program in the region is Geminus’ Vice President of the Head Start program, and this week’s Life in the Spotlight, Karen Carradine.
Carradine became involved with the Head Start program in February of 2013, when, what she calls, an act of fate led her to come out of retirement from early education and get re-involved in a career she has been passionate about since an early age.
“When I retired, my husband and I went on vacation and we had just gotten back,” Carradine told IIMM about finding her career at Geminus. “He walked out one morning to go to work and I remember sitting there thinking, ‘What am I going to do now?’.”
Carradine began looking around at various advertisements, and when she saw the opportunity for Vice President of the Head Start program was available, she went for it.
“I thought it must be an omen,” added Carradine. “Head Start is such a small community, so if you see an ad like that - for that type of position - it makes you believe that something bigger than you is calling you to take it.”
Early education has always been in Carradine’s blood, even from a young age. Before coming to Geminus, she had worked for 22 years in Chicago Public Schools before starting her own Educare school, which, similar to the Head Start program, aims to level the playing field for early education for all children and narrow the “achievement gap,” (or the difference in observable performance measures between children of different socioeconomic status).
But even earlier that, Carradine knew about the difference Head Start can make in a child’s life because she was one of the earliest enrollees in the program, entering into the program in 1966 on the South Side of the Chicago.
“I remember those years as being some of the fondest,” Carradine said. “Just the idea of adults and children exploring learning through interacting and play was amazing to me.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Soon, Carradine got into babysitting, then teaching, and eventually into the administration aspect of education. But throughout it all she has always been focused on helping others through her passion for helping families grow and develop.
“As they say, it takes a village,” Carradine said. “It’s ‘two-generational’ teaching here. Teaching the kids, and teaching the families to help their kids as they move on in their education.”
And this total involvement and investment in a child’s future also means working together with the schools these kids will be moving on to after Head Start.
“When we first started Head Start, we were everywhere but the schools,” Carradine said. “Now, we are in Merrillville, Hobart, East Chicago, and Lake Station. Being involved with the schools is a reminder that we all have a mutual investment in these kids’ future.”
Outside of helping to build a better future for kids in Northwest Indiana, Carradine enjoys her time with her husband of 32 years, three daughters, and seven grandchildren. And while Carradine says the kids decided not to follow in the footsteps of their mother, but rather the entrepreneurial ones of their father, everyone in the family recognizes the importance of Carradine’s work in building a better future for Northwest Indiana.
It is after all, as Carradine says, her calling.
“I truly believe in destiny. How can something like early education of children stay so strong and central to me throughout my whole life? Because, it’s destiny.”