Susan Darr started serving on the Catholic Charities team almost 25 years ago -- and through many changes in her life and placement in the organization, she still holds firm to this belief...
“I believe in what Catholic Charities does for people," said Susan. "I’m here because I believe in the program, and what it can do. It can change lives.”
Starting as a volunteer for Catholic Charities in 1989, when her daughter was enrolled in Westside Head Start, Susan felt shy around other people and was going through a divorce. Head Start became her outlet. She realized how important a program could be in helping parents take better care of their kids and get support for themselves.
In 1990, she joined the team as a teacher’s aide but soon went back to school to become a teacher.
“I learned a lot about teaching and working with families who lived on a low income,” said Susan. “I was able to relate to the parents, and we had a lot of things in common.”
One commonality was raising children with disabilities. She was able to help them by providing emotional support and understanding. “When you have a child with disabilities you feel so alone," said Susan. "I made that connection with them.”
As a teacher, she also has a heart for children. Many times, she needed to give that extra effort to help her students.
One time, on a Thursday, she found a little boy stuffing mashed potatoes from school lunch into his pockets. She asked him why he was doing that. He explained that he wouldn’t eat again until he came back to school on Monday. Susan and other staff made sure to get the little boy's family a food box and connect them to other resources.
In another teaching memory, Susan remembers when Head Start was tasked with teaching age-appropriate lessons about sexual abuse. Susan brought dolls to explain safe and unsafe touching. A number of kids spoke up about what they had experienced.
The next year, a mother came to speak to Susan. She explained that someone had tried to molest her daughter but she ran away yelling, “Miss Susan said no one should touch me there.” The little girl told her mom and avoided the abuse.
It's these memories that make Susan believe in the work of Catholic Charities to help vulnerable families. Susan's dedication has impacted countless families in her years at Head Start. She continues to impact them today, but with a different job.
In 1999, Susan suffered through the first of many back surgeries and could no longer be in the classroom. She transitioned to data entry. That job became permanent, and she stayed in that position for 10 years. Eventually, she moved to her current job as a health and nutrition data specialist.
“This job gives me the opportunity to sit, which is very helpful," said Susan. "Catholic Charities has been very accommodating with my walker.”
While she's no longer in the classroom, Susan continues to go above and beyond to help the homeless and hungry families in her community. She calls herself a "coupon queen" and uses those skills to buy a lot of extra food for the food pantry at her church. She has always taught her children that when you buy food for you, you should also buy for others.
Susan's dedication has impacted countless families in her years at Head Start and beyond. Great employees like Susan create a ripple effect throughout the whole organization, making all of us better.
If you're interested in learning more or volunteering to continue the work Susan believes in, you can learn more about Catholic Charities Westside Head Start. The program provides comprehensive early childhood education through a holistic approach by working with the whole family.