Rockingham County Head Start program helps mother succeed

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REIDSVILLE, N.C. -- Doneka Dillard has a lot to smile about these days.

She's doing a job she loves, working as an assistant teacher with Rockingham County's Head Start program.

The program just awarded the mother of three for being the parent of the year.

"I look back and I think God has brought me a long way," she said.

Three years ago, Dillard was in a very different place.

"I was kind of at wit's end,” she said. “I was very depressed."

In 2012, her fiancé and the father of her children was killed in a car accident.

"I shut down completely."

A year later, Dillard's sister, who had been helping her with her children, died in her sleep.

"You're dealing with grief on top of grief," she said. "I was just in a very dark place."

But things started turning around after Dillard enrolled her son in the Head Start program where family workers spent as much time with her as they did her child.

"They talked to me, found counseling for me, agreed to go with me to the counseling," Dillard said.

Ricky Graves, the director of Rockingham County's Head Start program, says working with parents is a big part of student success.

"We become like family," Graves said.

In the last year, at least three parents in the program, including Dillard, went on to become assistant teachers.

Family workers also helped the mother go back to school, earning her bachelor's degree in health administration in October.

It’s a program that helped Dillard become better in her own life as well as at home.

"When your basic needs are taken care of, then everything else will fall into place," she said.

"My life is totally turned around."