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Mel Gravely

Peaks and Valleys: A Head Start Story – by Lore Pierzchala, Cleveland, OH

lore_pierzchalaAt the ripe old age of twenty nine I was married with four children (ages 2, 4, 9 & 12).  I had already lived a lifetime of heartaches. Since I was seventeen years old I had always placed my children’s needs before mine, but my husband didn’t feel the same need.   After twelve years of waiting for him to step up and support his family, I realized I could no longer count on him and his empty promises.   My husband thought alcohol was his friend.  He spent a lot of time with his friend, so much that it cost him his job.  I was employed, but my salary was not enough to support my family on my own.  We were on public assistance and had filed chapter 13 in an effort to try to keep our home.   I was lost on how to move forward and was giving up on life.

One day I received a flyer on my front door that spoke about WSEM’s Head Start program.  I decided to enroll my third daughter.  I was asked to attend a parent committee meeting, where the Social Service Coordinator, Kathleen, quickly started a conversation with me.  After talking to her for a few minutes she encouraged me to run for office on the committee.  Before I knew it I was elected to represent the center on the agency’s parent committee.

I am not sure what Kathleen saw in me.  Maybe she was just being kind, but her encouraging words were what I needed to hear at this point in my life.  I was soon elected to represent the agency’s parents at the grantee level.  On the way to the first meeting Kathleen explained to me the role of the committee and how important it was for the parents to be involved. She encouraged me to run for Secretary of the community.  I laughed and explained to her that it was not a good idea as my spelling/writing abilities were not very good.  She kept encouraging me and even offered to help with the minutes if I were elected.  Something told me that I needed to do this, but I was so painfully nervous.  My entire life I wanted nothing more than to be “out of sight and out of mind”.  I learned as a young child if no one saw or heard me I could not be the center of their abuse.  I was afraid to speak because of my dyslexia; afraid the wrong word would come out and I would sound like a moron.  I truly don’t know where my strength came from, but I knew I needed to do this.  I managed to pull myself together and before I knew it I was elected Secretary of the committee at the grantee level.

As a part of forming the grantees community we attended a relationship building workshop.  At this workshop we were asked to describe our life’s experiences by drawings peaks (good experiences) and valleys (bad experiences).  The presenter stood over me as I drew my valleys; my father’s abuse, my learning disability, my brother’s abuse, family illnesses, the death of my parents, my relationship with my husband.  The peaks were the birth of my first child, graduating high school, the births of three more children, being employed and purchasing my house.  I was so in tuned with my drawing I didn’t even realize the presenter was standing over me until she said “wow.”  She then asked, with tears in her eyes, “all of this has happened to you?”  This was the first time anyone had been sympathetic towards me.

At our next session we learned about abusive relationships.  When I left that workshop I sat in my car and cried for a long time.  I couldn’t stop thinking about all the years I had been abused by my father, brother and husband.  I didn’t even know it was abuse. I thought it was normal.  I felt like a fool.  My heart ached for my children; I choose to bring them into this world and I owed them so much more than what was being offered to them.

It was because of this workshop and the Head Start staff’s encouraging words that I enrolled in the local community college.  I slowly took classes, a few at a time.  The following year I was elected President of the agency’s & grantee level committees.  Since I was the President on those two boards I was given a seat on both of their Board of Directors.  This experience allowed me to grow and to learn I was someone and was important.   I sat on those Boards with lawyers, accountants, councilmen/women, representatives from the Mayor’s office and many others.  I attended conferences alongside them, all over the US.  I learned they walked like me, talked like me and wanted the same things for their families. It was on these boards that I meant this wonderful man, Mel Gravely, who taught me how to take charge of a meeting and the proper way of running it.  I will never forget one question he asked me, “Where did you get your high values and good morals?”   This touched me so much because I never had much in life, but the thing I did have and the one thing no one could take from me were my values and morals.

Before I knew it I graduated with my associate’s degree.  I then became employed as a social service coordinator at the same agency that pushed me so hard to become more then I thought I could ever be.  I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in Social Work. It took me thirteen years to do this, but I did it, while raising my four children on my own and working full time.  Today I am a Licensed Social Worker. I am employed at a wonderful agency as a supervisor in their foster care department.  Most importantly, my children and I are away from their abusive father.  My children are now adults and I have three beautiful grandchildren.

I still can’t believe thirteen years ago I was so broken and have overcome so much; and to think this is all because I received a flyer on my door about Head Start.  More importantly, those involved in Head Start who encouraged and empowered me to become so much more.  I am truly grateful for the Head Start program and only wish all parents would take advantage of all it has to offer.


  1. Melva Smith says:

    What a wonderful story, never had all those experiences, have had some rough times in my life times, thought my faith and believe in the Lord has always separate me from those other that for some strange reason never understood the meaning of serving the LORD with all your heart. Live and worked in New York city all alone without immediate family, left a life style to come to MD to care for my Mother; who was becoming disable and for some reason the Lord saw fit for me to gain custody of my first Grandson which I able to enrolled him into Head Start program. My only Son, was not eligible because of income level at the time and I never knew how great this educated step was to our little people of the world. I am having some doubts as to what other who I am interacting with due to their failure to follow the Head Start Act of 2007. If I did not mention, I worked for the federal government for years before coming to MD and I live, work and totally understand policy and procedures. My biggest problems @ the level, I am serving with the Head Start program working as a member of the Policy Council and was elected to serve as the Governing Board Rep.,is how to actually get these individuals to fully understand why we all serve as you have so plainly experience without losing my mind. I am open for suggestions. Mr. Gravely also, has enhance my knowledge about how and what to do and I am just seeking how to correct all that I see is so very wrong.

    Thank you in advance for your assistance

  2. Kathy says:

    I LOVE this story I almost see my story taking away the father and brother abuse… I thank God for the message for me to continue to strive on my break through is on the way. Thanks for sharing this story.

  3. Linda Santiago says:

    I’m so proud of Lore she is and will always be a special friend in my life. I went too school with her and walked very similar paths alongside her together. Lore in my mind went through some horrific events after high school. I sit at times and feel as I abandoned her at her darkest hour. Lore and I lost tract of one another due to normal life events I also had started a family, marriage, kids ect. If we could only turn back time. I myself had endured many obstacles in life but very few can or still are around to talk or seek help or find the doors too their peace. I’m TRULY grateful that there is an organization out there for people . Lore I’m speechless and yet so proud of you and the fact your calling in life has finally found you so you can now help others. YOU have always been a leader but just let the demons of others try and control you, however you are the one who prevailed. One person in my life taught me a valueable lesson in life that would be my grandfather. He always said I have a blank canvas too paint of my life and I must never allow anyone too paint it for me because its the same as allowing someone to put labels on you and I’M the only one who can place a label on my self. Lore as I said on our last visit we need to write a book on our lives so it can inspire a person in life or save one . BRAVO FOR TELLING YOUR STORY AND NOT THROWING THE FLYIER AWAY.

  4. Lore says:

    Linda my dear friend we went though a lot of hard times together as kids but we and still have each other to get us though the rest of lives. We did have some good times together as well and have continued to do so. Don’t ever regrate are pass because it made us who we are today… Love ya, can’t wait to see you again. Tell the family we said hi from Cleveland… GO BROWNS!!

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