Fifty-six years ago, Tewksbury resident Rita O’Brien Dee was a single parent raising five children on her own. Rita faced difficult struggles trying to work, put food on the table, and keep a roof over the heads of her family. Much like today’s young families, one of the biggest struggles was finding affordable childcare.

In 1965, Head Start was introduced as a brand-new anti-poverty initiative and was a cornerstone of Community Action. It started as a seven-week summer program for low-income children and transitioned into a school year program. Head Start provided a quality early learning experience for the two youngest of Rita’s five children. It also provided her with the opportunity to get involved from the very beginning of the program.

Rita OBrien Dee

Rita started her Head Start career as a Teacher Aide. She became a Teacher after attending Wheelock College and UMass Lowell to earn her Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She also earned her Child Development Associate Credential (CDA) from the National Credential Office in Washington, D.C. This required a portfolio of proof that an applicant is competent in fourteen areas of a child’s growth and development. For one of the twenty-seven years she was in the classroom, she left to become a CD.A Professional Development Advisor, bringing mentoring and coaching skills to five Teacher Aides. She guided them while they earned their CDAs. She encouraged them to build their competencies and complete their portfolios so they would be able to launch their own careers as Head Start teachers.

Rita’s love for children is unparalleled as is her passion for giving back to the community. Since retiring, Rita has served on the Head Start Policy Council and Community Team work’s Board of Directors for nearly twenty years and has also served as Vice President of the Board. Rita still serves as a member of many of Community Team work’s committees (i.e., Program Evaluation, Strategic Development, Governance, Merrimack Valley Housing, and Fundraising). Rita is a regular at all Community Teamwork functions and is always willing to serve in any capacity when necessary.

In 1998, Rita was named a Community Teamwork Local Hero and presented with the prestigious Marjorie McDermott award for her dedication and commitment to the Greater Lowell community. Today, Rita is still a hero in the eyes of many at Community Teamwork. She remains very active in her hometown of Tewksbury, serving on the Executive Boards of The Friends of the Library and the Historical Society. She is an active member of the Senior Center, the Garden Club, the Democratic Town Committee, and a former long-time election worker. In 2017, Community Teamwork presented Rita with a “Key Player” award for her roles as a former Head Start parent, teacher and advocate.

Rita O’Brien Dee, a more than half-century legacy of Community Action and still going strong!