October 9, 2008
McClinton climbs ladder to director’s post at ICS
With October the month that ICS Head Start, headquartered in Holly Springs, joins the nationwide Head Start Awareness celebration, new director Eloise McClinton has a running start on her new position.
Coming on board June 1 as the ICS director, McClinton fills the shoes of Arvern Moore, who retired. She is the first female to step into the role at ICS and the third director since the inception of ICS 42 years ago. The late Eddie Lee Smith held the post for a short time before Moore took over in 1967.
McClinton was deputy director for six years and prior to that served as director of social services at ICS beginning in 1991.
With a master’s from Ole Miss in community counseling and a bachelor’s in social work from Rust College, McClinton’s first love was counseling. But she said she wanted ultimately to be a director of the Department of Human Services when she graduated from Rust College.
Instead, God had a different plan for her life, McClinton said.
Her first job in the area of community counseling was as office manager of Communicare in Holly Springs, where McClinton worked and gradually completed the requirements for a master’s, then joined Head Start.
Her story is both a glad one and a determined one beginning with her childhood in Olive Branch, the eighth child of a family of 12 children and the first in her family to go to college.
Her parents were sharecroppers, her seven older siblings took up trades and became skilled workers. One sister became a beautician, a brother went into construction and other siblings liked factory work.
After McClinton went to college, two other siblings followed in her footsteps. Her baby brother studied engineering at Mississippi State University and now works with Toyota in Indiana. Her baby sister became an elementary teacher and now is with Memphis City Schools.
With success at being the first, nieces and nephews followed in their uncles’ and aunts’ footsteps, one becoming a math teacher, another a business owner in Tupelo and one a nephrologist in Memphis.
“As a child I loved school and enjoyed going to school,” McClinton said, as she shared a backward glimpse of her life and childhood. “I graduated with honors in high school and college.”
She was very studious and enjoyed helping others.
“My spirit wants to help others and education was a step for me to focus on helping the community,” she said. “I just knew you had to be smart and kind to do work that is fulfilling. I wanted to be successful and to do that you have to have key elements to get you to the next level. Education is a solid foundation.”
While growing up, McClinton saw a need for the community to grow both in knowledge and in spirit.
“I saw a lot of need in Communicare where people could not get a grasp on life,” she said. “I wanted to know how I could help families. Then, I felt ICS was the best place to start to help families and children. God was not opening that door as a DHS director for me. So I became content with the opportunities offered. Yet still, I felt I needed to do more.
“So, August 17, 1991, when ICS opened its doors, I felt like I was right at home. That's where I needed to be. That's when I started working with families so the children's lives would change.”
In fact, McClinton said she didn’t have in mind becoming the director.
“I felt I was doing what I needed to do in social services, but I was actually making preparation for the next step,” she said.
She felt some trepidation when offered the post of ICS director.
“I asked myself, ‘do I really want to step into this role with so many families and staff to be responsible for?’ ” she said. “So, I asked myself, ‘is this for me?’
“Finally, I realized this is the direction God had for me - dealing with families in a department where I can do the most good.”
McClinton’s rise to director was not a straight and trouble-free path.
She became a single mom but she completed high school with help from a social worker.
Graduating from high school helped to keep her dream alive and gave her a reason and means to go further.
“I felt I could do more and encourage girls to do more,” she said. “I tell them, ‘just because you are pregnant does not stop your dream.’ That will give you a stonger desire to press forward because you have the child and yourself to live for.”
McClinton refused public assistance from the Department of Human Services from the beginning.
“I made the choice I would work for myself to help care for my child along with my family,” she said. “It can be done if you have a desire to do it. I found those who work through these difficult times take pride in what they have achieved. You know you have earned it.’
As director of ICS, McClinton said continued funding is necessary to help Head Start keep abreast of the times and to continue to provide quality services the organization has always embraced.
“We still need community partners,” she added as a second element to the success of Head Start.
Volunteer readers are needed for the classrooms and children need adult mentors in the classroom. And ICS encourages parents to become involved at the Head Start Centers.
“Children are our future, but how can they be our future if we are not putting our love and dollars into their education?” she asked. “We want to be the premier in cultivating and developing the minds of children. We want to be at the forefront to ensure safety and quality so this organization will be around for a long time.”
ICS receives federal funding through the U.S. Congress in February each year and some state funds through the Childcare Development Fund for working parents which covers 15 counties.
Thirteen counties offer Head Start (ages 3 and 4); the Childcare program serves children from ages 0-13; and early Head Start is offered in some counties from pregnancy to age 3.
McClinton is married to Alonzo McClinton, an environmentalist in Marshall County. They have four children, – Shelonda McDonald, 33, who has a master’s in social work and is now with Memphis City Schools; Christopher, 26, working with DeSoto County Schools; Justin, 21, a college student; and Kristian Tyler, a ninth grade student at DeSoto Central.
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