When Head Start was launched in 1964 as a piece of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, Bill Ferzacca traveled as a national consultant, informing people about how the new federal law would help disadvantaged children get better prepared for kindergarten.
"That was one of the most exciting times of my life," he said. "Helping one another makes you feel better."
His personal experience allowed him to connect with the people he was helping.
"My own family, when I was 11, 12, and 13, went through a period of poverty, and I don't want to go through that again," he said. "But no one is talking about poverty today. None of the presidential candidates are."
That lack of conversation doesn't mean poverty isn't with us and, in fact, growing at an alarming rate. Recent numbers from Fayette County Public Schools indicate that nearly half of our enrolled children, based on their families' income, are paying less for school lunches, if they pay anything at all. That is nearly 19,000 children. The number of preschoolers who would qualify for Head Start also is growing.
Ferzacca, 84, who worked in early childhood education more than 40 years, said he wanted to do something to help those children.
"I don't have a lot of money," he said, "but I have enough I can share some of it."
Ferzacca is financing three scholarships, one at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, and two at Community Action Council, which administers the Head Start program in Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison, Nicholas and Scott counties.
The $2,500 Ferzacca Scholarship at BCTC is administered by the college and is for applicants who are taking at least six credit hours and have a 3.0 grade point average. They must demonstrate financial need and a desire to help those living in poverty. Applicants must intend to major in fine arts or education.
"Those are two things that I love," Ferzacca said.
He and his wife, Ruth, 82, are retired educators who met at the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville 13 years ago and married five years later. They spend a great deal of their time these days performing either as StorySpinners, in which they take standard children's stories and give them interesting twists, or with the New Horizons Jazz Band, a performing ensemble of amateur musicians no younger than 50. He plays trombone and she plays the bells.
They also volunteer at Community Action with the children in Head Start, which leads to the second scholarship, the Bill Ferzacca Education Scholarship. It is administered by Community Action, and there are two of those.
Those renewable $2,500 scholarships were created to help higher education students rise above poverty and then reach back to help others. Applicants must be Fayette County residents and must be planning to earn a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or related field, although they can start out in a two-year college.
Recipients are required to teach in Head Start for two years after graduating, or in some other area of poverty.
"It is for anybody," Ferzacca said. "It dawned on me to open it to older students as well."
Applicants must live within the poverty guidelines and want to use the scholarship as a way to escape poverty. They must write an essay of fewer than 700 words and must demonstrate an interest in early childhood education and how the scholarship would help.
Performing, volunteering and funding scholarships are all a part of what drives Ferzacca every day.
"I need my ego to be stroked by what I'm doing for other people," he said. "Being involved means you are alive, and alive is important."