The S.B. Questionnaire: Lorraine Rowden Neenan

Talking Early Education with the Director of Children’s Services for the CAC

Lorraine Neenan surrounded by the children of Community Action Commission's Los Ninos Center day care.
Paul Wellman

“I’ve always been a nurturer,” explains Lorraine Rowden Neenan, the children’s services program director for the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County. The CAC administers the Head Start program, which provides care and education to children ages zero to five from low-income families while remaining sensitive to each’s ethnic and cultural heritage. “Our whole job is to help that parent get to work,” says Lorraine. “We’re all about getting the child into a routine and ready for school.”

The CAC runs 24 centers, all of which are held to the high standards of the National Association for Education for Young Children. “Not only are we accredited, but we’re free as long as you’re a low-income family,” says Lorraine. “We have a waiting list. We’re able to fill 1,003 slots a year. “

Lorraine is one of the most serene people I know. Born in Altadena, she moved to Santa Barbara when she was seven, so her dad could work as a police officer here. She studied at SBCC ‘s Early Childhood Education program.

“I started Discoveries Learning Center in 1978 with Marilynn Jorgensen,” she proudly states. “We asked ourselves one day, ‘What’s the ideal childcare center?’ And we decided to start it.” Within a year, they had a waiting list, and they soon opened a second facility. She ran one of them for 17 years.

Lorraine started working for CAC as a teacher and site supervisor 13 years ago, overseeing facilities ranging from 20 to 64 children in Carpinteria, Santa Ynez, Lompoc, Buellton, Goleta, Santa Maria, Cuyama, and Guadalupe. “The site supervisor overlooks all the teachers,” she explains. “It’s a vital position that includes operations and interaction with all the children.”

Once a month, the centers hold parent meetings with different topics and provide childcare and dinner to incentivize the attendance. “We teach parents how important engagement with their children is,” she says. “Put down the cellphone and engage with your child!”

As to what challenges are on the horizon, Lorraine explains, “The political climate is scary for we don’t know if Trump will support Head Start.”

Today, Lorraine lives in the Santa Ynez Valley with her husband Tim Neenan, who makes custom bicycles and owns Lighthouse Cycles. She answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What makes me laugh the most?

Children! Being a lifelong observer of early childhood, their naivete and unfiltered explorations are hilarious. When I spend an hour in a toddler classroom, I will often leave with my cheeks aching from smiling so long.

What is your most marked characteristic?

My acupuncturist once asked me this question and I said, “Calm.” He joked, “Would your husband say that?” So, I asked my husband and he said, “Yes, but more accurately, compassionate.” I try to be so.

What is your motto?

My maternal grandmother was Mennonite, and they often lived in communal societies. She would say, “Many hands make light work.” I agree that when we work together it makes the work so much easier, and meaningful.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

There are several, but my top pick would be Mother Teresa. I admire people who serve others, and support social justice.

What do you like most about your job?

It is meaningful. I work with about 1,000 families each year who live at or below the national poverty line, which is very low: about $20,000/year for a family of four. For free, or very low cost, we provide comprehensive services to children in utero to age five: early childhood education, child care, health services, nutrition, dental, and mental health services, as well as education to parents about parenting/child development and leadership development.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A world of peace, justice, and all necessities met, for all people.

What is your greatest fear?

My house burned down in the Sycamore Canyon fire, so I get very anxious when there are wildfires.

Who do you admire most?

I most admire my father. He has passed, but he taught me so much, all by example. He taught me about honesty, and hard-work, and fairness, and beauty, and the value of enjoying life in the moment. These are lessons I use every day.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Food! I love to eat good quality food and drink fine wine, and to share it with my family and friends.

What is your current state of mind?

I am calm and content. I do not have anything to complain about.
What is the quality you most like about people?

I like people who are accountable for their actions. People who accept their mistakes (and my mistakes), and move on.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

People who BS or spin things to their advantage, over others. People who don’t negotiate or compromise, or “don’t play nicely with others.”

What do you value in friends?

Conversations. My friends are all smart, sassy people with creative ideas, wide-ranging thoughts, and passionate opinions. We can spend long hours together enjoying the discussion of the day.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I can drop into professional jargon, which is not always understood or appreciated. If you ask me what toy to buy for your three-year-old, I am happy to tell you about ones that are educationally and developmentally appropriate, do not promote the commercialization of childhood, and are kinesthetically beneficial.

Which talent would I most like to have?

I would like to learn to paint, or indulge in some creative activity like that.

What do I consider my greatest achievements?

Without a doubt, my two sons. They are wonderful young men who have strong values, and live lives that are productive, creative and responsible.

Where would I most like to live?

In my house in Santa Ynez. I grew up in Santa Barbara, and after extensive international travel, I find that I am quite spoiled. But what I love most about California are Californians.

What is my most treasured possession?

Hmm. That’s a hard one. I try to live simply. If you count your pets as possessions, then they would be my dog Carla (a rescued Rhodesian ridgeback), my tabby cat Dashi, the three chicken girls, and nine goldfish.

On what occasion do you lie?

I lie when it would hurt someone if I told the truth. So yes, your butt looks great in those pants.


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