March 12, 2014

We have lost a true community hero

The death of Maggie Espinoza on Feb. 13 leaves a deep hole in the hearts of those who have served children and families throughout Santa Barbara County through the Community Action Commission’s Head Start program for the past 40 years.

Maggie was a true community hero in every sense of the word. As someone who was deeply moved by her dedication and amazing success story, I would like to make sure that her special gifts to our community are known and appreciated by those who might not be aware of the scope of her work. We are all the richer for having had her in our midst.

Born in Santa Maria, graduated from Righetti High School, and a long-time resident of Guadalupe, Maggie first became involved as a parent at Guadalupe Head Start Program, where her son was enrolled. She started work as a bus driver and parent involvement aide in December 1974.

Here are some of the titles she held in the program since that time: Teacher aide, teacher, head teacher, center director, education/special education coordinator, assistant director of family development, support services special program assistant, and social services coordinator. In 1991 she was appointed acting childcare director and eventually became program manager for the North County.

She also worked as a consultant for the federal government, traveling the country and our territories, including the Samoan Islands, monitoring other Head Start programs.

In 2009 she earned her B.A. from Antioch, as part of the university’s first group of students from North County. That year she was awarded Head Start Administrator of the Year by the California Head Start Association.

You can see the pattern: excellence, accomplishment, dedication, hard work, success, and professionalism, always while caring for others.

She oversaw the development of many new services in Santa Maria, Guadalupe, and Cuyama, and instituted several vital programs. She pioneered a male involvement program to make sure the centers were “man friendly,” so that child rearing was not considered the mother’s exclusive domain, long before this idea became the norm. She also helped start volunteer appreciation dinners so that all who worked with children and families understood how vital their efforts were for our community. Maybe most important, she understood the need for professionalism and was an early and vocal proponent of making sure the centers were accredited. The day before she passed away, she was working hard, interacting with a national representative regarding accreditation of an early learning program.

Staff and parents alike looked to her as a role model. No wonder.

In short, Maggie was a true, quiet local hero, whose life demonstrated the importance and value of Head Start to families and children. Think again about her story: starting as a parent, getting involved, rising through the ranks of the CAC’s Head Start Program, developing national stature yet always staying close to her roots, and going above and beyond to help people. Her life was remarkable, and it was inspirational.

Children and families throughout our community are all the better because of her dedication and excellence. She was a gift to all of us.