Unsung Hero: WCECC staff - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Unsung Hero: WCECC staff

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CARTERVILLE -- A group of educators in Williamson County made it their mission to keep the doors open for the pre-K program.

"You advocate and that's what you do," said former program coordinator Sheila James, "and you do it for families, you do it for the kids, because children need this service."

James can finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing the pre-K program will open in Williamson County later this month.

As the program coordinator, she received word all early childhood education services would not continue in the fall without receiving payment from the state.

At that time, she started a campaign to reach out to legislators explaining the need for this program here in southern Illinois.

"We're a team, these ladies, we're a family," said Sheila. "We stuck together through it all, we have built a lot of bonds with each other. We rose together and we were going together and we weren't going to allow that to happen."

Sheila and many of her staff members rallied together to secure funding for the program. The group says they wouldn't take no for an answer.

"They're a crazy group," said director Jami Hodge. "They make signs, they make t-shirts, they make phone calls, they stay late, they drive to Springfield. They do everything that it takes because they love the kids, and the program is their heart and they know how important it is."

Thanks to fundraisers from local businesses including Ike Honda, a group was able to travel to Springfield to meet with lawmakers in person.

These teachers say their message was received well because they were speaking from the heart.

"I think that they could see that we were passionate about our kids and about our program," said Shawna Mohler, "and they realized that this is kids that we're talking about."

Tammy Horn also traveled to Springfield. 

"Thinking about these kiddos, where would they be at if we didn't have the program? Would they have other options? Some could find alternative plans but some couldn't afford it," she said.

While the ultimate goal was achieved and the program will continue to change the lives of these young kids, the staff has changed too.

"Many of us interviewed for other jobs and other positions and were keeping doors open for what would happen in the fall," said Sara Holst.

That means some of the staff members took other jobs that were guaranteed leaving vacancies in the program.

These ladies say they're proud of their efforts but especially thankful for the leader of this "crazy group."

"She [Sheila] has a heart of gold. She loves the children and families, all of us," said Holli Clark. "I kind of feel like she's my mom, almost, and she cares about everybody."

It's a fight that may not be over, too. Only time will tell if this group will have to travel to Springfield again next year.

But they promise they won't stop fighting for the kids and families they serve.

If you are interested in filling one of the vacancies with the program, follow this link.

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