Editor's note:This is the 14th in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.
By KAMIL ZAWADZKI
The Russell Child Development Center's tiny-k program is crucial to helping families ensure their children develop at a healthy rate and are primed to lead successful lives.
For tiny-k Early Intervention Coordinator Jill Reagle, that's a main goal and part of the essence of RCDC she hopes people are aware of and take advantage of when they need to.
"We're able to help parents help their child," she said. "And to be able to encourage parents and empower parents to be advocates for their child."
This year, RCDC has received $35,000 from Finney County United Way, the same amount as was allocated last year but an increase from $30,000 for 2011. The United Way money mainly will be used to pay for the salaries of RCDC's early interventionists.
These interventionists fan out across 12 counties in southwest Kansas to help families with children ranging in age from birth to 36 months old, providing services that Reagle notes are not just required by some of the federal grants the organization gets but are crucial for any community.
These services include physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, early childhood education, feeding and nutrition, hearing and vision, social work and assistive technology.
"There's not a one-size-fits-all. Every child is different," Reagle said. "And our staff really does a fabulous job of identifying the needs, identifying the priorities of the family and working with that."
She admits the organization is underfunded, but is satisfied with the quality of service provided to its clients, something she and her staff want to continue.
With less funding, she said, they likely would have to reduce staff or staff hours, which would mean there would be less time each child would get with their interventionist. As a result, the quality of the program and its positive effect on children and their families would be reduced, as well.
"They wouldn't get the assistance that they need," Reagle said. "They wouldn't get the start that they deserve."
Dr. Michael Shull, a pediatrician at St. Catherine Hospital's Siena Medical Clinic, who refers families to RCDC, spoke highly of the tiny-k program.
"I think people don't realize what a real jewel we have in the community with this center here," he said. "Russell gets families the treatment their children need."
He added that some of his referrals are from families who are simply concerned and want to make sure that their children are on track with other kids their age.
"Sometimes it's a child that is developing normally, and they can take their child to Russell for free screenings during the school year if the family's worried," he said. "If they are in fact behind in one area, Russell will put them in touch with the right people to help their child."
And if the child is developing at a normal rate, Shull said, a family can be put at ease and made aware of some simple exercises to ensure continued development of walking, speaking and other skills.
"It really gives the children a chance to grow up to have a healthy lifestyle," Shull said.
Reagle said that interventions and therapies before children enter school prepare them for success in classroom situations, academically and socially.
"Children learn best in their natural environment," she said, adding that is why tiny-k interventionists head to the children's homes or playgrounds, where they feel most at ease, until "school eventually becomes the natural environment."
Reagle cites research showing that not only does learning begin at birth but as much as 85 percent of brain growth happens in the first three years of life. And it also helps the families.
"Families report that early intervention services have helped them to know their rights, effectively communicate their children's needs and help their children develop and learn," she wrote in a follow-up email. "Therefore, the tiny-k Early Intervention program and staff values and considers the role of the family as key to the success of early intervention."
And parents can offer input, as well, through an inter-agency coordinating council, while some past participants currently sit on the organization's board, which Reagle said shows the positive impressions the program leaves on families involved.
Shull said it's unique for a rural, vast region like southwest Kansas to have a program like RCDC's tiny-k Early Intervention.
"People in this region are very blessed to have services like this available," he said.
The local United Way's annual campaign goal is $550,000 for 2013, the same as it has been for the last few years.
The 21 partner agencies for the 2013 campaign are also the same as this year.
They include: Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Program; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.