Great Start Collaborative presents community partners with awards

Published 10:00 am Friday, March 12, 2021

CASSOPOLIS — This week, one Cass County organization recognized individuals who advocated for children over the past year.

During a virtual meeting Wednesday, Cass County’s Great Start Collaborative presented two community members with 2021 GSC Awards. The individuals awarded helped promote GSC’s mission of providing “support, encouragement, sponsorship, and promotion of resources towards every child being born healthy, thriving, and developmentally on track from birth through third grade.”

First awarded was Chanda Hillman, chief executive officer/executive director of Tri-County Head Start. Hillman received the Parent Advocate Award, which is given each year to an individual or organization that advocates for children across the community.

Anna Carter, Great Start collaborative director, said Hillman was chosen for the award due to her years of advocacy and for always putting children and families first.

“Chanda has been an active advocate for parents and their children in Cass County, as well as the Tri-County area,” Carter said. “Chanda started her journey as a parent and is well equipped to be an advocate for them. She is an active Cass GSC member and sits on many GSC workgroups, including Capacity Development, Equity Task Force, and Access and Outreach, working on getting families the needed resources and how to access them. Chanda plays an active role in making parents feel comfortable in taking the lead on the policy council and is an active listener in the support and advocacy of parents. Anytime Chanda is asked to contribute in the support to families and children, she jumps into action.”

A graduate of Western Michigan University, Hillman has a master’s degree in public administration. She first volunteered as a policy council member when her children were students in the Gobles Head Start classroom and then was hired as a part-time recruiter in 2016. Since 2016, Hillman has held the positions of recruiter, recruiting manager, ERSEA manager and family services director. In 2018, she began her current position as executive director of Tri-Count Head Start.

Also awarded Wednesday was Brent Holcomb, the current superintendent of the Lewis Cass Intermediate School District. He received the Community Advocacy Award, which is awarded each year to an individual or organization that advocates for all families and children across the community.

This year, Carter said giving the award was particularly difficult as many candidates were worthy of recognition. However, she said Holcomb stood up above the rest.

“Brent has served on many boards and committees,” Carter said. “He has is the Cass County Great Start Collaborative Steering Committee co-chair, the GSC Equity Workgroup, where he was a huge part in bringing Dr. Mary Bacon to Cass County in 2019. He also serves on the Capacity Development Workgroup. He is an active member with his wife, Alice, on the GSC Assess and Outreach Workgroup in the creation of the Cass County Community Resource Guide and in distributing them across Cass County, so families and children would have better access to needed services.”

Outside of GSC, Holcomb serves with United Way of Southwest Michigan Board of Directors, the Human Services Coordinating Council of Cass County and the Social Justice Alliance of Cass County. In the past, he has worked with the Cass County Anti-drug Coalition, Cass County Court Appointed Advocates, Imagine Cass, School Equity Caucus Board of Directors and the Intermediate School District State Instructional Committee.