President Obama visits Head Start program at Kansas UCC
When the Rev. Peter Luckey watched President Barack Obama walk through the doors of his church, he felt his heart skip a beat. The President of the United States paid a visit to Plymouth Congregational Church United Church of Christ during a trip to Kansas last week, marking a “momentous” event for the Lawrence-based church.
“I can’t express how elated we were, and still are, that the president would come here,” said Luckey, senior pastor of Plymouth Congregational. “It’s the first time we’ve had a sitting president in Lawrence in over 100 years, and of the two places he decided to stop, one was our church.”
Obama traveled to Lawrence on Jan. 22 to speak at the University of Kansas on issues pertaining to families, including the importance of quality early childhood education and daycare programs. Before his talk, Obama stopped by the Community Children’s Center, one of the nation’s oldest Head Start programs, which has been housed at Plymouth Congregational for the past 50 years. The center combines federally-funded child development programs with a state-assisted daycare center, and serves about 80 children from the area’s low-income families.
During his stop, Obama visited each classroom and spent the majority of his time interacting with the preschoolers. Luckey noted the excitement of the children, who have so far only known one president during their lifetimes.
“To have President Obama come to Plymouth and honor our program is like a dream come true,” Luckey said.
Plymouth Congregational has recommitted itself to the mission of supporting early childhood education for vulnerable families in the community several times over the years, Luckey said. The church decided to be a location for a Head Start facility in 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson launched his war on poverty and programs to help low-income families. In the 1980s, church leadership made the decision to remain in downtown Lawrence and continue to serve the city through the program. In the 1990s, the church raised $2.7 million through a capital campaign to build a new wing for the Head Start facility, and the program now boasts a five-star rating for its quality and service.
“We have no doubt this is what attracted the president to our facility,” Luckey said. “The White House did their work and found a top-notch program for the president to visit.”
Plymouth Congregational’s history as an abolitionist congregation was another aspect of the president’s visit that Luckey found powerful. Founded in 1854 by anti-slavery activists from Massachusetts, the church has long celebrated its abolitionist roots, and Luckey believes its founding fathers would have been proud of how far the church has come.
“We are deeply moved as we think that the first African American president walked up the steps and into the doors of our church founded by abolitionists,” Luckey said. “I had a vision that our ancestors must be looking down from the heavens and smiling with deep pride that the president was walking through the doors of a church they worked so hard for.”
Photo credits: Nick Krug, Lawrence Journal World
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