RPC’s Early Childhood Education Program Honored with Award Named After Longtime Advocate for Vulnerable Children and Families

The Vanessa Rich Innovation and Leadership Program Award

The RPC’s Early Childhood Education program has been named the 2020 winner of the Vanessa Rich Innovation and Leadership Program Award, presented annually by the Illinois Head Start Association (IHSA). The award is given to the Head Start program in the state of Illinois that best embodies the spirit and values of the late Vanessa Rich, the former Chair of the Board of the National Head Start Association.

Symbolizing the persistence, creativity, and excellence personified by Rich, the award honors a program that strengthens the drive for innovation and ingenuity in other Head Start programs throughout the state. Rich, who passed away in 2015, was relentless in her quest for quality for the country’s most vulnerable children and families, and her courageous spirit empowered those around her. She remained a strong early learning advocate throughout a career lasting more than 40 years.

“Similar to the previous winners of this award, the RPC’s Early Childhood Education program has its finger on the pulse of their community and is a key player among Head Start/Early Head Start, education, health, and human services providers,” says Lauri Frichtl, Executive Director of the IHSA. “We presented this award to the RPC because they exhibit leadership and inspire other programs to engage in the pursuit of quality and assume leadership positions.”

Recipients of the Vanessa Rich Innovation and Leadership Program Award are those programs who initiate and lead the often difficult and frustrating work that sustains the psychological and physical health of the Head Start/Early Head Start community. These programs:

  • Create an example for the rest of the Head Start/Early Head Start community to follow, such as inspiring others to take on new ideas and even become champions themselves
  • Provide an occasion to highlight and explain challenges and issues and how leadership empowers others to overcome
  • Make other programs engaged in the community feel that they and their work are valued and appreciated
  • Help prepare the community for future initiatives by accentuating the need for ongoing work and for more leaders and innovators

Frichtl says that honoring programs like the one administered by the RPC highlights not only their character and achievements, but also the work they do and the issues they grapple with every day. “It serves as inspiration and motivation to others to support their work and to become leaders themselves,” she comments. “Tending the flame and passing on the legacy of Vanessa Rich will inspire and motivate us collectively to work even harder, to expand our reach even further, and to make a bigger contribution to the children and families we serve.”

Vanessa Rich was a fierce advocate for children and families. She began her career in early childhood education in 1965 and was committed to helping children and families living in poverty until her passing. She served the field in many capacities, including Head Start Director in Galesburg, Dean of Adult Education at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago, Director of Region V Training and Technical Assistance for CSR, and finally Deputy Commissioner to the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, serving more than 16,000 Head Start and Early Head Start children and families.

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