We want you to get to know the people who make Healthy & Active Before 5 the powerful collaboration that it is. In this series, we’ll be speaking with members of our Executive Committee and other partners who bring unique perspectives on early childhood health to our table. Today we’re speaking with Katharine Mason, Division Manager of Contra Costa County Community Services Bureau. She has served as an Officer for Healthy & Active Before 5 since 2015, and is now a Vice Chair of our Executive Committee.
What do you do and your organization do?
Since 2011 I’ve had the privilege of overseeing the direct operations of 15 Head Start/Early Head Start/Title 5 development centers in our county, and the comprehensive services provided to our families. We at EHSD Community Services Bureau (CSB) provide full-day/full-year and part-day/part year child development services to over 2,200 children county-wide. Head Start is a nationwide program that began in 1965 to provide school-readiness services through a holistic approach by providing support to the whole child (physical health, social-emotional wellness, nutrition, etc.) and her/his family. The cornerstone of our work is parent engagement. Parents are a child’s first teachers, so we believe that positive outcomes for a child happen primarily in partnership with parents. Head Start works throughout the year to engage families in that partnership.
I began working at CSB in 2005 as a member of the Comprehensive Services team, where I worked with families directly and later with our childcare partners to support their implementation of Federal and State subsidized child care programs. I’ve also served as an analyst with CSB where I helped to establish some of the systems for our program.
How did you get into your current field?
I came to Head Start about 10 years ago. I didn’t have much experience in early care and education, but I immediately fell in love with Head Start and its comprehensive services for families. I came from a background in nonprofit management, more specifically from organizations that address the needs of vulnerable children and families. Essentially, I’ve always worked with this population. I served in the Peace Corps in a rural area of Tunisia in the 1990’s, worked with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program to represent dependent and delinquent children in court, and worked in programs that address the needs of pregnant and parenting teens. In 2001 I earned a Masters in Public Administration to better my skills in administering programs that serve our most needy families. This diverse background serving vulnerable children and families naturally led me to CSB and Head Start where I could put my experience and knowledge to work!
Why are you passionate about public health for children?
Healthy brains and bodies are the foundation for children to be ready for the challenges ahead, in life and school. Good health and nutrition are so essential in the first five years for brain development and to establish good lifetime habits. Dental care is essential for school readiness – how can you concentrate on learning and play if your mouth is hurting? Access to safe outdoor play spaces is also essential for young developing bodies. With the necessary foundation in place, children and their families can begin to take full advantage of educational and other opportunities. These early services have lifelong benefits. And for children who don’t have the opportunity to receive them, the effects can impact them for many years.
What is one thing you would like to see changed or improved for children in Contra Costa County?
That’s a big question. I would really like to see improved access to healthy, fresh foods and the elimination of “food deserts” in low-income areas, as well as the overall reduction of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. I’d also like to see safe play spaces in every community and neighborhood. From my childcare perspective, I’d love to see an expansion of accessible, affordable, high-quality childcare so all families that need and want it can have it. We have over 6,000 children on the wait-list for childcare!
What do you like best about being a part of Healthy & Active Before 5?
I’ve been involved with HAB45 for 2.5 years now. Since joining, I feel like my own knowledge of the health needs of children here in this county has grown and strengthened. I’m so much more aware of the variety of ways that many entities are working together to address these needs and breakdown some of the barriers to accessing opportunities. I’ve really appreciated being a part of the collaborative, and I’m so proud of all of the work that HAB45 has done. I look forward to much more!