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How keys to cars help 2 single HCDE Head Start moms move forward Car gifting at Bates Collision Centers fuels smiles from moms, employees

Four bright smiles are anticipated as Laura Hernandez and her three girls accept a shiny key for a rehabbed car Dec. 19 at 10 a.m. from Bates Collision Centers in Baytown, Texas. The car literally provides the means to move forward to Hernandez, a Harris County Department of Education Head Start parent.

Smiles are also contagious around the Bates’ shops during the holidays, says co-owner Leila Bates, even after 14 years of gifting Christmas presents on wheels. The seasonal company slogan is: to receive a smile, you have to give one away.

“We put cars back on the road every day—it’s what we do,” Bates said. “But we really love knowing that when we repair these cars, we’ve put a family back on the road—the road to independence.”

“We’ve seen these cars really make a difference in these families’ lives. They’ve been a hand-up, not a hand-out.”

Cars 23 and 24 in the history of giving are being polished and wrapped. The Hernandez family unwraps the car at Bates Collision Centers, 3219 N. Main in Baytown, Texas Dec. 19 at 10 a.m. Kimberlie Owens and her family are presented with their car Dec. 20 at 10 a.m. at the Channelview location, 15532 I-10 E. in Channelview, Texas.

Bates staff members begin rehabbing the cars each fall—from engine repair to interior improvements to repainting the chosen vehicles. The make-and-model of the two cars remains a secret to the two Head Start families earning them through the 14th Annual Bates Responsible Parenting Award.

“It just puts a great big smile on my face when I see our employees still getting excited about revealing their Christmas gift on wheels to a family they’ve never met,” Bates said.

Community support from small businesses allows the Bates to add other gifts to the holiday giving cache. Gas, insurance, oil changes, car seats and other gifts for the family are included.

Head Start center managers receive several dozen essays and applications from parents applying for the awards. Qualifiers include the parents’ track records of involvement with their children in Head Start and their growth as parents.

Add one:

Head Start Director Venetia Peacock says the intent for the award and Head Start’s philosophies are good matches.

“Head Start provides resources for the entire family as they bring their 3- to 5-year-olds to our centers,” she said. “These women volunteer in the classroom, are active in their children’s education and are role models for other parents enrolled in the program. To get a car that allows our parents to become self sufficient is a life-changing event.”

HCDE Head Start delivers services to families of children 3-5 at 16 area centers in northeast Houston. Head Start promotes social and academic school readiness and provides family support services.

Bios of winners of HCDE Head Start 14th Annual Bates Responsible Parenting Award:

Laura Hernandez, HCDE Head Start R.P. Harris Center (77015)
Mother Laura Hernandez likens the gift of a car to a miracle in the time of need. After separating from her husband, she and her three daughters live with her parents. She struggles to make ends meet as a waitress.

“Without a vehicle and reliable transportation, I find it hard to move forward and feel like I’m falling behind in my economic status,” she writes in her personal essay.

Daughters Jackeline, 11, Kathleen, 8, and Kimberly, 4 are her focus. The two older girls are avid soccer players and Hernandez tries to nuture their passion for the sport by finding rides to practices and games.

When she can, Hernandez volunteers at R.P. Harris and is involved as Head Start Policy Council representative, a position which teaches leadership.

Being connected with Head Start has taught her parenting skills. Kimberly has a facial birthmark that sets her apart from other children. Head Start staff members have shown the young mother how to help her daughter celebrate her individuality.

“They have also helped with financial ideas and counseling,” she said. With a car, Hernandez vows to become more involved in her daughters’ schools.

Privately she is driven by her strong Christian faith. As an avid churchgoer, she communes with God at home when she can’t attend mass because of transportation.

“With a car, I would have more time to spend with my daughters, the community and my church,” she said.

Kimberlee Owens, HCDE Head Start Fifth Ward (77020)
Kimberlee Owens is proud that her son Branden, 4, is a lover of books. She wants him to believe that reading is cool in school. Owens is the mother of Branden and Jey’den, 1, and is a full-time nursing student. She takes time to volunteer and read in Branden’s Head Start classroom at Fifth Ward.

Add two:

“Branden loves to share books with his little brother and read stories to him at playtime,” said Owens. “Hopefully this will encourage his brother to get involved in reading as he grows.”

Last year the Owens family got involved with the food science fair in Head Start and prepared a healthy specialty dish using spinach.

Owens also volunteers as assistant chairperson of the Head Start Parent Committee. When schedules conflict, her mother attends in her place.

Having a car will allow Owens to continue her studies in nursing upon gaining her associate degree this May. She is an honors society member and continues a rigorous study schedule.

When her children get sick, she must depend on her parents to drive to doctor’s appointments.

“Receiving this award would mean so much to me in my efforts in becoming self-sufficient in taking care of my children and me,” she said. She looks forward to future library trips with her sons and plans to continue to volunteer in her children’s classrooms when time permits.

About Harris County Department of Education’s Head Start Area I: Harris County Department of Education Head Start Area I serves families residing in east and northeast Harris County, providing 16 area centers for over 1,250 children and their families. Head Start is a federally funded program that prepares children ages 3-5 for school. It also supports and promotes strong families through parent participation and training. Low-income families and families of children with special needs benefit from services. For more information, call (713) 672-9343,

About HCDE: Harris County Department of Education provides education services to the general public and 26 school districts throughout Harris County and beyond. Services include adult education, programs to promote safe schools, after-school programs, therapy services, professional development for educators, special schools, alternative certification for principals and teachers, Head Start Childhood Intervention programs. We offer contract procurement, grant development, program research and evaluation, records management, and school finance support. Since 1889, our services continue to evolve to meet the needs of our education public. Visit us at

About Bates Collision Centers: Founded in 1990 by Lee and Leila Bates, Bates Collision Centers holds steadfast to its mission to be the collision repair center of “choice” in the Bay Area of Texas. Through its staff at two locations—one in Baytown and another in Channelview—Bates provides refurbished cars for two needy mothers each year as a community service project. Other community businesses complement the project with auxiliary services. Access .

Carol E. Vaughn, Communications/Media Relations Manager
Harris County Department of Education
6300 Irvington Blvd., Houston TX 77022
713-696-0756 office, 281-660-9205 cell

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