It feels so good to have an impact’

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 28, 2004

Lisa King, left, pins a flower on Athenia Jefferson as part of Jefferson’s retirement ceremony at Pleasant Green Baptist Church Thursday(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[5/28/04]It took stints living in Brooklyn and North Carolina for Athenia Jefferson to realize she was working in the wrong place.

She moved to bigger cities to escape some of the problems she thought she left behind in Vicksburg. However, the same problems exist elsewhere. So rather than work to change conditions somewhere else, Jefferson decided to make a difference at the place closest to her heart home.

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“It feels so good to have an impact in your own environment,” Jefferson said.

More than 70 people attended a retirement celebration in Jefferson’s honor at Pleasant Green Baptist Church Thursday afternoon. Jefferson, a center administer of Head Start for Lincoln, Franklin, Claiborne and Warren counties, will work her last day at Cedars Head Start Center today after 37 years.

Jefferson started working in the federally funded private school-readiness program in January 1967, three weeks after the center was established in Warren County.

Before holding the position of central administrator, Jefferson worked as educational specialist for 34 years. That job required her to travel to the six Head Start centers in the four counties, train teachers and monitor the centers.

Lisa King, a teaching assistant who has worked with Jefferson for three years, said she is a lovable person and a joy to work with.

“If you know her, you just do,” King said. “She is special person.”

At the beginning of Thursday’s program, Heather Marshall greeted the crowd and said Jefferson was the best supervisor she’s ever had, which was echoed with a hearty “Amen.”

Madison Cooper and Franshelia Straughter sang during the program, and Bobbie Bingham Morrow read a poem, “A room full of sisters.”

Maria Scott spoke about how not only was Jefferson a collector of hats, but she also wore many different hats in her home life, work and in her community. Bettye Oliver was the guest speaker for the program.

State Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, read a proclamation about Jefferson’s dedication, and Georgia Dent, the regional manager for Head Start, recognized Jefferson for her long commitment to the program.

Lillian Porter, who has worked with Jefferson for 21 years as an educational specialist, said she has been a great example of how to be a leader.

“She has a great job with the community with families and parents,” Porter said. “She works with them closely and makes sure everybody is taken care of in the centers and also on the outside.”

Porter said Thursday and today would be emotional days full of crying, hugs and laughter.

Dent said Jefferson worked well with everyone, including children, parents and community members.

The idea of Head Start centers is to provide children from poor or underprivileged homes basic academic enrichment as they prepare to start school.

Jefferson’s impact still influences former Head Start students, who send Jefferson cards and visit her often.

“I’ve always enjoyed being involved with my community,” she said. “It’s always been a charge of mine and it came very naturally. My mother was involved and my father was involved in the community.”

Jefferson said she plans to spend more time with her husband, Robert, and travel to see her nine children and 15 grandchildren, who are spread from North Carolina to Arizona.

Jefferson said the 37 years didn’t seem like a long time, but it was time for her to move on.

“I worked 37 years I mean I worked…” she said. “I think I have paid my debt, but I have enjoyed it.”