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Marking a milestone: Loreen Terroni celebrates 30 years working at YCCAC’s Head Start

Loreen Terroni has spent a career in the company of children, pre-k boys and girls whose parents enrolled them in York County Community Action Corporation’s (YCCAC) Head Start program.

But she didn’t plan it that way.

Back in 1982, newly arrived in Maine from Pennsylvania, Loreen and her young family lived in Westbrook.

“My own children weren’t actually in Head Start,” Loreen says. “They were in the People’s Regional Opportunity Program (PROP) daycare, in Westbrook. That’s where I got my start in the field of early education. I was one of those parents who hung out in the classrooms and didn’t ever leave. A job opening came up and someone said, ‘Loreen, why don’t you apply for it? You’re here all the time anyway.’ I did apply, I got the job, and I worked at PROP for a couple of years. Then we moved to Limington.”

She took her first Head Start job as a teacher in Parsonsfield, in 1989.

Early in her tenure, she said she noticed that the lead teacher never seemed to last very long.

“They—the lead teachers—kept coming and going,” Loreen recalled. “So one day I said to Mabel Desmarais, the Head Start Director at the time, ‘If you give me the lead teacher job, I won’t go anywhere.’”

Mabel accepted the offer and tapped Loreen for the job.

She kept it for 19 years, until the site closed in 2008.

“Then I moved over to home-based work,” Loreen said. “But I stayed in that same area—Parsonsfield, Limerick, Shapleigh, and Limington.”

Some children and parents receive Head Start services in their homes. Home visitors come once a week to work with parents and their children. Together, the home visitor and the parents watch and work with the child. They plan ways to help the child learn using parent-child interactions, daily routines, and household materials.

“I loved the home-based job,” Loreen said. “I loved getting to work with the whole family. And out in that area, many of the clients didn’t have transportation, so they really looked forward to the weekly home visit. It was nice.”

Loreen worked as a home-based visitor for seven years. “I really enjoyed that,” she said. “I think it was my favorite position in Head Start.”

Loreen’s next assignment was as a Family Liaison, working with Head Start families in Waterboro, Buxton and Biddeford.

Family Liaisons coordinate services and activities with families and communities that foster strength, healthy living, and overall well-being. They also provide support in a case management style, and act as a liaison between families, staff, the community, and other family-related services.

“As a Family Liaison, I work closely with the parents, helping them access services they may need,” Loreen said. “I also encourage them to set goals, achievable goals that we can work on together during the school year.”

An example of a goal might be a parent wanting to go back to school and finish her education. Another would be to begin the process of buying a home, taking the steps that can lead, in time, to that end.

“The goals can be a hope, a dream,” Loreen said. “But they can also be relatively small. Some parents just need to find a dentist for their child. That’s a goal I can help with.”

Over the years, educational requirements for Head Start jobs have become more stringent. Loreen says that when she started her career, it was not uncommon for a Head Start teacher to have only a CDA (Child Development Associate Credential).

“Betty Graffam, the Education Manager at the time, encouraged me to get my Associate Degree,” Loreen said. “I knew there were changes coming, that education staff were gong to need degrees, and Betty really helped me with that goal. I went to York County Community College and got my Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education, all thanks to Head Start.”

When asked what she likes best about working at Head Start, Loreen said, “I just love working with this age group. And I like working with the parents, seeing their successes. I sometimes run into families that I haven’t seen for a very long time, and they tell me about a goal they were working on, and they might tell me: ‘Hey, we did it! We got it accomplished!’ It’s nice when that happens.”

It is common for Loreen to keep up with some of her former Head Start children. “They seek me out,” she said. “I have quite a few who have reached out. And now they have kids of their own. I remember the first time I experienced a child that I had in Head Start coming in (to the Parsonsfield office) and applying for her child. It was an eye-opener, but in a good way.”

Loreen’s children, a son and a daughter, are also grown and with children of their own. “My son, Jared, lives in Parsonsfield but is building a house in Baldwin. My daughter, Krista, lives just a mile down the road. And I have five grandchildren—Isaac, Chase, Eli, Colton, and Kenzie.”

Growing, living, working amongst children has given Loreen a perspective on the world, and on life. “If you don’t like something, just work your way through it. Everything changes. Remember to focus on the children and the family. That’s what matters most.”

Photo: Harper Grant and Skylar McKenzie, children enrolled in Buxton Head Start, pose for a photo with Loreen Terroni on May 24, 2019.