South County Beat: Volunteers give kids a Head Start

Young children were getting their faces painted and receiving balloon animals. Santa Claus was taking requests from children seated on his lap.A very merry party for South County children enrolled in the Five Cities Head Start program was under way Dec. 3 at the Women’s Club in Arroyo Grande.

Stan Garland, 81, of Arroyo Grande and president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 639 Retirees Club, was himself very merry as he watched the children, parents and staff from the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County and other union members interact at the event, which included a nutritious breakfast and ended with ice cream donated by Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab.

“We get enjoyment looking at the kids’ happy faces,” Stan said. He said that about 30 years ago, he and other members decided “we should contribute something to the community.” They wanted to “donate our time and raise money.” Many of the local children’s parents were working in the fields.

Stan wanted to do something to help these migrant children and their families. The union members fill backpacks for the kids, which include rulers, crayons, coloring books, pencils and a teddy bear. Kmart gives a good price on supplies.

“We have a good rapport with them,” he said.

Cheryl Conway, office manager of the local electrical workers union office, said, “The look on the kids’ faces is priceless.” She also commented that the electrical retirees “don’t do this for the recognition.”

Ballooney the Clown (Mike Kilton) keeps the kids busy with face painting and balloons and is great with the kids.

“This is the man,” Stan said, indicating how the South County clown performer “does everything.”

The retired electrical workers club raises money for him. Santa Claus was played by unionmember Fabian Chavez, who is a fourth-year apprentice with Local 639.

Stan’s son, Stan P. Garland, also an electrician, and his grandson, Tibor Pasti, a second year apprentice, were also there helping with Pasti’s wife, Jem.

Other groups who contribute to the annual Head Start party are Spencer’s, Apple Valley Farms, which gives apples, the Elks Club in Oceanom, which gives ham and cheese, Lemo’s Feed and Pet Supply gives tortillas and milk cartons and Green Heart Farms donates poinsettias.

Mark Simonin is the local union’s business manager who supports the retirees’ club. He said there is a lot of community support for this party.

They “get the whole spectrum” from beginning apprentices to retirees, he said.The apprentices come and are already starting to give back to the community.

The training program takes place at the San Luis Obispo County IBEW hall on Edna Road south of San Luis Obispo. The apprentice schooling is a five-year program, during which the student begins working as an apprentice electrician. Each year under their belt gives them an increase in hourly rate, until they complete the training program.

Debby Welch is the director of Community Action Partnership’s Head Start and is a “hands-on” person, very much a part of the annual party in Arroyo Grande, Stan added.

After the party, they all pitch in to clean up the Women’s Club hall.

Each year, the Head Start children make a paper present to give to the retirees after the party. Last year it was a big teddy bear.

Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.