Hattiesburg Excel By 5:  Working on a healthy start for children

Published 2:08 pm Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Hattiesburg Excel By 5 Coalition is working to identify community resources that can help families ensure their children are healthy, happy, and ready to learn by the time they enter kindergarten.


“Hattiesburg has a population of about 48,000 people. More than 3,000 are under the age of 5. As a community, we must ensure a healthy start for our young children. I think 2022 is going to be the best year ever for children in Hattiesburg,” said Dr. Patti Permenter of William Carey University’s School of Education.

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The city received its original certification in the national Excel By 5 program a decade ago and is now in the process of re-certification. WCU is lead partner for the Hattiesburg coalition, and Permenter is its certification manager.

The diverse group of community leaders who make up the Hattiesburg Excel By 5 Coalition met Dec. 6 at WCU’s King Student Center to organize its efforts. The group includes educators from the University of Southern Mississippi, William Carey University, Hattiesburg Public Schools, and Head Start. It also includes business leaders, parents, faith-based practitioners, community and health care workers, and childcare providers.

Dr. Kathy Young is chairperson for Hattiesburg Excel By 5. She is director of Children’s Ministries at First Presbyterian Church and has been active in the early education community in Mississippi for 32 years.

“In college, I wanted to be a marriage and family therapy counselor. As I took classes, I kept hearing the same message. It was that so many of the problems people were dealing with originated in early childhood experiences,” Young said.

“God led my heart. I feel like He was calling me to work with children to prevent problems from arising in their futures. Part of that is figuring out how to connect all the different resources in Hattiesburg so that people know who to call for help.”

Kari Lynn Somers of the United Way of Southeast Mississippi is Hattiesburg Excel By 5’s treasurer.

“If a child is ready to learn by the time they start kindergarten, they’re more likely to be successful in all areas of their lives. Good things are already happening in the community, we just need to make people aware of their resources. We are proud to be part of the Excel By 5 team to improve the lives of children,” Somers said.

Hattiesburg Excel By 5 will focus its work in four main areas: 1) community involvement; 2) family and parent involvement; 3) early care and education; and 4) health.