Many fathers will unwrap ties, T-shirts and coffee mugs this Father's Day weekend declaring them the No. 1 Dad, but one Fulton man was recently named the best in the nation.
Jerry Damron, known better by the children he works with as "Mr. Jerry," was named the National Head Start Association's Parent of the Year. He accepted the award at the group's annual Head Start Conference in California.
Damron received $500 and a commemorative plaque for his achievement. He volunteers regularly with Callaway County Head Start, where his children are enrolled, and said the award came as a surprise.
"I was shocked at first whenever they told me I was going to be the winner because there's so many other people who are single parents out there who strive to do the same thing I'm doing for their children, and they deserve credit too for it, because they work their butts off," Damron said. "I'm overwhelmed with the possibilities of having to live up to it."
Damron had a rough patch in his life a few years ago, where he lost his job and went through a divorce. His three children became involved at that time in Head Start - a federal program that provides early childhood education and health services for lower-income families - and he credits it as one of the sources that helped him get back on his feet.
"Knowing Jerry and what he has done, he has worked to improve his own life and education as well as his children's," Beth Vossler, Central Missouri Community Action's director of Head Start operations, said. "He's gone back to school, he's found housing and employment ... which of course goes to show the support Head Start can bring to table."
Tammy Hawk, CMCA's Family and Community Partnership assistant administrator, nominated Damron for the award. She partners with Head Start parents in crisis situations where they need more one-on-one assistance and began working with Damron during his divorce and job situation.
Hawk said she began by giving Damron small goals to accomplish for himself, and she was encouraged to see he continued to set and accomplish his own goals after they stopped working together.
"Occasionally I would see him and hear about him, and I had seen he was still setting goals and accomplishing them," she said. "I think his self confidence improved, he didn't have that confidence with himself and thought he couldn't do anything right at that point - by accomplishing a few goals at a time, he saw he can do it. (Winning the award) just reinforces that I saw something within him."
Hawk described Damron as devoted - a sentiment shared by CMCA Callaway Community Organizer Tad Dobyns. Dobyns said he got to know Damron through a leadership course, Step Up To Leadership. Upon graduating, Damron was eligible to use a small grant to help the community, and he chose to help build a resource room for Our House, Callaway's overnight and intermediate homeless shelter, where Damron briefly stayed.
"The one thing I can say is he's always doing this stuff not only for himself but for his family, to put his family in a better position and put himself in a better position," Dobyns said. "That's always first and foremost. And it shows with Jerry, he's honest about what he's doing it for."
Damron said giving back was just part of his philosophy.
"I feel that if you don't give back in some way ... it's taking for granted the acceptance of the resources," he said. "I was taught if somebody does something good for you, you do something good for somebody else, whether it's something simple or something major. As a community we're supposed to stick together and rely on the resources around us to help us move ourselves (forward)."
Vossler, who herself was named the national Administrator of the Year, said Damron was a "very dedicated father" who volunteers "a tremendous amount of hours" to both give back and set an example for his children. Damron is currently enrolled at Moberly Area Community College, working toward an associate degree to teach.
"The goals I wanted to set for myself was to better my family, to better our future," Damron said. "(Pursuing my degree) is a challenge in itself but if you're not challenged in life you're just going to stay normal. You have to go above and beyond to set goals and to achieve them have to do some hard work to get there."