Laura Hayes ('86 M.Ed.) knew that she wanted to transform the next generation of students just like she was impacted as a child.
She decided to come to UNT while she was a teacher in hopes of becoming a principal or superintendent so she could make that impact through a leadership position.
"My ultimate goal has always been to positively affect the lives of children and families especially in under-served communities like where I grew up," Hayes says. "I was always interested in education. My parents were very focused on education and saw it as the great equalizer. So, it was important to me to get my degree and go back and help others in my community."
Her experience and education have led her to serving in a leadership position for a nonprofit that had a positive influence on her life. She serves as president of the board for Head Start Greater Dallas Inc., which is a finalist for Organization of the Year by D Magazine.
Hayes grew up in Dalworth, a community located in between Dallas and Fort Worth on the Dallas side of Tarrant County.
In her upbringing, Dalworth was considered an underserved community and was heavily impacted by industry and pollutants. She saw it as a forgotten area and noticed that her community did not have many of the resources as others.
Her dad worked two jobs and her mom worked three jobs, taking care of the home and family and her community work. Hayes was cared for by a close neighbor, known to her as "Big Momma," who watched her while her parents worked.
"She was like a surrogate grandmother to me but early educational awareness was just not on her radar. It is hard to give what you never had," Hayes says. "I spent my days frolicking about picking up pecans or watching soap operas."
She was longing for something that was more engaging. One day, a couple of people came by her house and talked to her parents about a special program before attending grade school.
Her parents enrolled her in what she would later realize to be the first program for Head Start, which serves preschool-age children in low-income areas throughout Dallas County. During her time at Head Start, Hayes was exposed to new experiences and learning skills like reading and taking field trips. She now credits that strong beginning to the program for being on top of her education.
"That 'head start' literally situated me for my entire academic career. I skipped classes in elementary school, took accelerated classes in middle school, honors and AP classes in high school and graduated magna cum laude from college," Hayes says.
She went on to graduate with a master's degree in secondary education at UNT and became a principal at Dalworth (now Daniels) Elementary, which is where she attended school as a kid.
She also has worked in other positions within education through Dallas ISD and several organizations and even got involved as a board member for Head Start in 2014. She served on two committees and was elected vice president of the board of directors of Head Start in 2019 before being elected president in 2020.
"I feel like I have come full circle and now I am able to give back to an organization that gave so much to me," Hayes says. "And I know from my studies as an educator that early childhood education is really where you get the greatest bang for your buck."
Since Hayes was elected president, she has raised over $400,000 for Head Start and received the Outstanding Director's Award from the Dallas Business Journal.
And the recognition doesn't stop there. She is thrilled that the program is a finalist for Organization of the Year by D Magazine.
"The early childhood education community has long recognized the exemplary service of Head Start of Greater Dallas," Hayes says. "I am so excited that the larger community is gaining exposure to Head Start of Greater Dallas and that it may be an avenue for us to serve even more children and families and gain additional partners in the community."
Head Start will be featured among the other finalists in D CEO's August issue and recognized at an awards ceremony this July, where the winners of each category will be announced.
Hayes wants to continue in leading education environments and nonprofits in underserved communities. She hopes to continue supporting students seeking higher education and help them achieve their goals.
"Knowing that there are boys and girls out there in underserved communities that have just as much potential and even more than I did at that age inspires me to keep pushing and trying to disrupt trends of poverty for families and create brighter futures," Hayes says.