Bright eyes and giggles were abound at The Gateway in Newport on Sept. 27 as 12 Head Start students and three Early Head Start students boarded the Northern Star cruise boat. Captain Andy Scott got things off to a great start by joking with the little passengers that "no smiles were allowed" which made the kids smile even bigger as they crossed the threshold from the dock to the Northern Star on Lake Memphremagog.
Owner Chris Johansen wandered into the Northeast Kingdom Community Action office on 70 Main St. in Newport one day and spoke with Joe Patrissi, executive director of NEKCA, inspired after taking the third-grade classes in Orleans County on boat trips. "I want to give this opportunity to children that may not ever have the chance," Chris said. "People may think I'm crazy but I believe many things happened to actually get this boat here and I just feel like I have to do this stuff."
The one-hour cruise and the staff time to man the boat was all donated by the Northern Star to the NEKCA Head Start children, parents and staff. Captain Scott was also free of charge.
Head Start programs across the country have received a significant cut in funding -- about $150,000 was cut locally, as well as 17 enrollment slots for children. Also a contract with Creative Minds Childcare Center was terminated. Some staff were temporarily laid off and the equivalent of two full-time employees were permanently cut. The Lyndonville and Derby Head Start's that operate year round were closed for a week this summer and were forced to close early in the spring and opened a bit later this fall. Field trip opportunities will also be cut unless support comes from community members and business owners like Johansen.
For more information about Northern Star cruises and a complete schedule visit www.vermontlakecruises.com. For more information about Head Start, Early Head Start and other NEKCA programs and donation opportunities visit www.nekcavt.org.
Submitted by Carrie Steele from NEKCA.