Who we are

Since our inception in 1972, we have served over 40,000 children. Tri-County Head Start currently serves 583 children from birth to 5 years of age and their families in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties in our home- and center-based programs.

What we do

At Tri-County Head Start we are more than a preschool, we offer wrap-around services for the children and families we serve, in addition to the high-quality early education we provide. Our education team prepares children for Kindergarten and future school success, and our Family Advocates link families to resources in the communities, ensure that children are up-to-date on their medical and dental appointments, and help families set and achieve goals.

Our Mission

To build a future where children, families, and communities thrive.

Our Vision

To partner with families, staff and communities in providing quality services with compassion and professionalism to achieve stability, guidance and a positive educational experience.

Our Philosophy

There are two factors that distinguish Head Start from any other early childhood programs in the communities we serve; the comprehensiveness of the program and the degree to which parents are involved in all aspects of the program. We believe we must prepare, educate and develop our children and their families to be positive contributors to their community.

We believe all young children are individuals who learn best by actively exploring, interacting with their environment (physical setting and materials) and engaging with quality teaching staff and parents. Caring adults help children create, experiment, and question within a positive atmosphere that facilitates problem solving, beginning concepts, and the formation of relationships.

We strive to individualize learning and help each child develop a positive self-image. We think it is important to attend to children’s overall health as we foster social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.

Tri-County Head Start

By the Numbers






Children and Families Served Each Year


Staff Members


Staff that were previous Head Start parents


Staff who are veterans


Staff continuing education


Books distributed to HS and EHS families this year

Meals Served in a year (Coming Soon)

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Meet Our Leadership Team

Chanda Hillman

CEO/Executive Director

Chanda Hillman, CEO/Executive Director, is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a Masters of Public Administration, a Bachelors of Arts in Gender and Women’s Studies with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership and is a Certified Nonprofit Professional. She first volunteered as a Policy Council member when her children were students in the Gobles Head Start classroom and then was hired as a part-time Recruiter in 2016.   Since 2016, Chanda has held the positions of Recruiter, Recruiting Manager, ERSEA Manager, Family Services Director, and finally the CEO/Executive Director beginning in 2018.  Chanda loves to travel and find great travel deals. Her favorite book from childhood is The Berenstains’ B Book she can still recite the entire book from memory.

Laura Burtis

Finance Director/CFO

Laura Burtis, CFO/Finance Director is a Graduate of Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting.  In 2015, Laura was hired as an intern with the Finance Department.  Since 2015, Laura has held the positions of Finance Specialist, Finance Manager, and began her role as the CFO/Finance Director in 2021.  When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with her family.   Her favorite book is Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss.

Mandy Orlando

Head Start Education Director

Mandy Orlando, Head Start Education Director, started her career at Tri County Head Start as a Teacher in 2008.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with Early Childhood endorsement from Western Michigan University and a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Ashford University.  She is a certified CLASS observer and trainer in the Michigan Literacy Essentials for Preschool.  Mandy’s favorite childhood book is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  Mandy is passionate about supporting teachers and children and gets to do both in her work at TCHS and in her community as a Girl Scout troop leader and adjunct instructor at Southwestern Michigan College.

Patti Masters

Early Head Start Education Director

Patti Masters, Early Head Start Education Director, is a graduate of Ferris State University with a BA in Early Childhood Education as well as a graduate of Western Michigan University with a MA in Social Work. She holds CLASS Certification, is a trainer for the Family Services Credential, and a member of NAEYC. Patti was hired in 2011 as a Head Start Mental Health Consultant. From there she became the Early Head Start Administrator/Home Based Supervisor, then the Early Head Start Education Director. When not working, she enjoys kayaking. Her favorite book is The Mitten, by Jan Bret.

Cindy Thomas

Health Services Director

Cindy Thomas, Health Services Director, is a graduate from Western Michigan University with a Masters in Social Work with an emphasis on Clinical Practice. She also holds a certification in Health Care Administration and CLASS.  Cindy was hired in 1999 as a Health Services Associate. From there she became a Health Services Specialist, Mental Health Consultant, Early Head Start Administrator, and started her role as the Health Services Director in 2012.  While she is not working, her passion is spending time with her family. She does not have a favorite childhood book, but has grown to love any book written by Eric Carle.

Gloria Walter

Family Services Director

Gloria Walter, Family Services Director, is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a Masters in Organizational and Global Leadership, and a Bachelor's in Education. Gloria holds a K12 teaching certificate and was a classroom educator before joining Tri-County Head Start in 2017, as the ERSEA Manager. In 2018, Gloria transitioned into her current role as the Family Services Director.  One of her fondest childhood memories is reading with her father each night before bed; she attributes this ritual to her passion for lifelong learning. In addition to unremitting learning, Gloria enjoys frequently traveling to new places and learning about new cultures.

Allison Lowry

Operations Director

Allison Lowry, Operations Director, is a graduate from Western Michigan University with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education with her ZA Endorsement.  She holds a CLASS Certification, and is a PD Specialist for the CDA Council.  Allison was hired in 2009 as a Teacher at our Hartford site.  From there she became a Classroom Coordinator, then Education Advisor, and then started her role as the Operations Director in October of 2019.  While she is not working, her passion is playing softball and volleyball through the Kalamazoo Park District.  Her favorite book from childhood is anything by Shel Silverstein but she especially loved the poems from "A Light in the Attic".

Kevin Wordelman

Human Resources Director

Kevin Wordelman, Human Resources Director, is a dedicated advocate for teachers, students and working families, with a Master of Public Administration degree from Western Michigan University and ten years of human resources leadership in education and human services organizations. Kevin is a skilled facilitator, risk-manager and coach, committed to organizational justice, anti-racism and inclusion. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys hiking, basketball, boating, music and books. His favorite children's book is Frog and Toad Together

Maureen Ovington

Development Director

Maureen Ovington or Mo as she is often called, is the Development Director at Tri-County Head Start.  She is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she studied Business and Integrated Leadership, and, in 2024, completed a certification in Fundraising Essentials from nonprofitready.org.  In 2019, after a (16) year career in Corporate America with the same company, Maureen decided she really wanted to turn her focus to making a deeper impact in Southwest Michigan and entered the non-profit world.  For the past five years she served as the Director of the Berrien College Access Network before joining the Tri-County Head Start family in March 2024.  In her spare time, Mo likes to walk with friends, read, take pictures of sunrises and sunsets, host gatherings at her house, and spend time with friends and family.  Her favorite children’s book is actually one that she has given to many high school graduates, and it is Oh The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.