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Texas couple donates $10 million to keep Head Start open

GREENFIELD — Children from low-income families across western Massachusetts, including about 130 from Franklin County, will be able to continue attending their Head Start programs this week, thanks to a donation from a wealthy Texas couple.

Laura and John Arnold, who run a Houston-based philanthropy organization, donated $10 million of their own money to the National Head Start Association to help programs affected by the shutdown. It will allow the western Massachusetts program, run by the Greenfield-based organization Community Action, to stay open through October.

The local program is one of 23 across the country that receives federal funding every Oct. 1, said National Head Start spokeswoman Sally Aman.

When the government shut down on that day, those programs had to scramble to find other funding sources to stay open. Aman said that money has been distributed to 12 programs so far, including the one in western Massachusetts.

The local program depended on state money to operate for the first two weeks of October, said Clare Higgins, executive director of Community Action. The agency was prepared to close its classrooms before this additional money came through, she said.

“We’re very happy to be staying open until the end of October,” said Higgins. “We’ll see what happens then.”

It typically costs Community Action $550,000 to operate the program each month, said Higgins. There’s no sense of what will happen if the shutdown continues into November.

“The government needs to reopen,” said Aman. “There’s absolutely no way that individual donors can sustain this program.”

The program provides poor families with free or discounted child care and early education services — as well as meals, family support, social and mental health services, job training and more.

There are two Franklin County classrooms in Greenfield, four in Turners Falls and one in Orange. Community Action also runs programs in Hampshire and Hampden counties.

State Secretary of Education Matthew Malone toured the Northampton Head Start site on Friday to talk about the importance of the program, said Higgins.

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