KCSL programs focus on early childhood

11/13/2012

Editor's note:This is the 21st in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.

Editor's note:This is the 21st in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

For every $1 in United Way funds received, the Kansas Children's Service League can leverage another $4 for early childhood education programs and health referrals for low-income families in Garden City.

The KCSL is a statewide organization that provides a variety of services and programs for children and families, acts as an advocate for children and works with other public and private organizations that impact more than 40,000 children and families across the state each year, according to its website.

Locally, Eric Pommier, Garden City office director, said Finney County United Way provides $22,000 per year split between three programs: Head Start, Early Head Start and Healthy Families.

"We're primarily a federally funded program, but we also rely heavily on community donations and in-kind donations. That's what United Way funding is is in kind," he said. "We offer no-cost early childhood education services for a select population. We have some criteria families have to meet to qualify for the program because it is no cost."

The Head Start program has 146 slots for children ages 3 to 5, who attend school at one of the five classrooms the KCSL offers in Garden City for 3 1/2 hours a day, four days per week for 128 days per year. There also are seven slots for home-based services designed for families who may be unable to come to one of the classrooms, or who prefer to provide home-based education. A staff member visits the home once per week for 90 minutes and essentially helps the parent be the teacher, Pommier said.

Early Head Start has 66 slots for ages 0 to 3 and is geared toward people with low incomes who might not be able to afford early child care or pre-school, or don't meet a pre-school's criteria.

Healthy Families is open to ages 0 to 5 and is similar to Early Head Start, but is made available to larger numbers of families because there is lower criteria to meet to qualify.

"We also have some more intensive services that a lot of preschools don't offer, and that's where United Way funding comes in. Beyond early childhood education we focus on the whole child, the whole family," Pommier said.

Every child in one of the centers has a teacher and access to a case manager who works with the parents outside of the classroom, helping to coordinate various services. Pommier said every child who uses KCSL services receives up-to-date vaccinations, physicals, mental health observations and referrals and dental referrals.

"We're really a big referral source for a lot of families. Some may have just moved to Garden City and they come to us and don't know how to navigate things," he said.

Pommier said demand for services is very high and the organization maintains a waiting list. Without United Way funding, KCSL would have to find money elsewhere in its budget, not easy to do in the current economic environment, he said.

"This money is important to us because United Way funding is used almost in its entirety to ensure those minimum services are achieved. That's the first thing we do is make sure we have money to pay for it. For families who can't afford minimal care, we'll pay for it if they can't afford it," 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 2013 also are the same as the previous campaign:

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.

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