MCIO (Morehouse Community Improvement Organization) celebrated 50 years of service with its annual Christmas Luncheon, honoring the program’s pioneers.

The luncheon was attended by community supporters, current employees and well wishers. The Municipal Center was adorned with beautiful Christmas decoration which ushered in the yuletide spirit. The tables, chairs and stage—all were decorated to represent the Christmas spirit. Mrs. Deborah Frazier Williams and head start staff provided the Christmas décor and head start staff were servers and greeters.

A warm welcome was shared by Ethel Robinson, MCIO Head Start Director, who has been employed with the program since its inception. Entertainment was provided by Miss Louisiana, Holli' Conway and the Lil MCIO Head Start Angels, who shared their rendition of christmas carols, directed by Danielle Jackson and Diane Smith. A sumptuous meal was served with the blessing of the food by Rev. Steven R. Conley.

Former mayor of the city of Bastrop, Clarence Hawkins, served as the mc for the occasion.

The Head Start Program has a long and storied history. According to Ivory Smith, the application for a head start program began with an idea shared by the late Earlie Hayes. A group of men and women got together and submitted the application in the fall of 1968. A committee of MCIO members made the presentation to the police jury. Juror Vesper Jones, initially was in strong opposition. However, the presentation by the MCIO committee won him over. Henry Messinger was the president of the jury at the beginning of the venture and later he was replaced by the late Ray Yarborough. MCIO was given permission to submit the application.

The application was written, and duplicated. Baynard Duncan, Charles Strickland, Billy Rabon, Payne Montgomery, Lula D. Smith and Elowise Rabon were prime movers in preparing the initial application. This process started in the fall of 1968 with additional information submitted, until final approval in the spring of 1969 when the grant was announced.

The whole town was elated, and MCIO became “bigger than life” as an organization. The award made the front page of the local paper.

The Morehouse Parish School System provided facilities for the program and has always been instrumental in the day-to-day operation.

The citizens of Morehouse parish have been complimentary of the head start program. They feel that head start has made a definite contribution to better race relationships, ensured the coordination of services by public agencies, and to the orderly integration of the public schools.

The members of the police jury at that time were R. C. Anderson, Cecil Cain, Lum Day, Henry Ferrell, Jr., Rush Harrison, Frank Holloway, Vesper Jones, Jeff Mccain, James Mclendon, Henry Messenger, l. E. Rawls, Doris Rowland, Arnold Smith, D. W. Thomas and Ray Yarborough.

The Delegate Agency included President Payne Montgomery, First Vice-President John D. Andrews, Treasurer James Johnson, executive secretary Lee. E. Loche, and secretary, Grace Reese.

The Board of directors included John D. Andrews, John W. Armstrong, Lee E. Loche, Fred Montgomery, Payne Montgomery, Grace Reese, Perry Smith, and Charles Strickland.

Billy J. Rabon, one of the founders and organizers of the MCIO Head Start Programs sits at the helm of the current board, a position which he has held for 20 years. Prior to last year, MCIO operated a center in Oak Grove and one in Mer Rouge, and the main center in Bastrop. However, on last year, MCIO leased Oak Hill Elementary School building, located on Collinston road, from

The Morehouse Parish School Board. In April, a ceremony was held, with more than 200 people present, and the name of Oak Hill was changed to the Billy Rabon center. The MCIO program has had a successful program, and it is always said, ‘ if you keep families happy and the money right,’ you will always have a program.

In the absence of honorable Katrina Jackson, state representative of district 16, the presenting of awards was done by Holli' Conway. Terry Matthews, Education Director for Head Start recognized early pioneers of the program. Presentations were made to Arthur Hamlin, who served on the Policy Council, Zenobia Williams, who served as the first nutritionist for the program, Grace Reese, secretary, Milton Jackson, historian, Ivory Smith and Billy Rabon, pioneers for services rendered.

In sharing remarks, Billy Rabon, board president encouraged the people look at head start and the financial contributions made to Morehouse parish for the past 50 years. Head start has gone from a $77,000 budget in 1966 to a $3.3 million in 2019.

According to Rabon, “When the money is awarded to our program, I have to sign my name to get it, I cannot afford to misuse it, because I can’t pay it back.”