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Programs aimed at families benefit from United Way

Published 11/23/2013 in Local News : United Way

Programs aimed at families

benefit from United Way

Editor's note: This is the 23rd in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.

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.

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

Primarily a federally funded program, KCSL also relies heavily on community donations and in-kind donations like United Way funding. Pommier said KCSL offers no-cost early childhood education services to families that meet certain criteria to qualify.

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, with an impact on more than 40,000 children and families across the state each year, according to its website.

In southwest Kansas, 516 families are served by KCSL, and United Way funding is a vital component of continuing service.

"What it means to us primarily is the ability for us to help families who need help with health care, including physicals, immunizations, dental work, things like that," Pommier said. "If they couldn't afford it, we're able to help them do those things so the children are healthy when they go to school, so they can concentrate on learning and playing and things like that."

Due to federal sequestration budget cuts, the number of families KCSL has been able to serve this year has dropped. Those significant cuts make United Way dollars even more important, Pommier said.

"All Head Start agencies across the nation had a 5.27 percent budget reduction, and that took effect this fiscal year," he said. "We all had to find ways to cut. For us it meant over $200,000 worth of funding, and what that ended up doing was it reduced our enrollment by 43 slots, and we had to eliminate eight staff positions."

The Head Start program serves 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 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.

Early Head Start encompasses children ages infant 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.

Children in the centers have 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.

Johana Hernandez, KCSL Head Start case manager, works with the families of children attending the local Head Start program.

"Head Start helps families become self-sufficient, getting them able to do things on their own, like finding needed resources and those things that can help the family grow and get better," Hernandez said.

Families are appreciative of the help, because many times they don't know where to start looking to find resources, she said. Insurance and medical needs are a big concern.

"A lot of families are not able to have health insurance. A lot of that (United Way) money goes toward helping out," Hernandez said. "Last year I had a family, a pregnant mom, who had never gone to the dentist and she didn't have any health or dental insurance. The United Way money helped get her to the dentist and she actually had a root canal done, filled multiple cavities. She finally got all those done and she was very grateful."

The local United Way's annual campaign goal is $560,000, which is $10,000 more than last year.

The 25 partner agencies for the 2014 campaign include:

Miles of Smiles; Real Men, Real Leaders; Russell Child Development Center; Santa Fe Trail Council - Boy Scouts of America; Seeds of Hope Jail Ministry; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; Building Blocks Project through Russell Child Development Center; Spirit of the Plains - CASA, Inc.; St. Catherine Hospital - Lactation Program; United Methodist Mexican - American Ministries; The Salvation Army; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Garden City Recreation Commission - Playground Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties; Catholic Social Service; Circles of Hope; Community Day Care Center, Inc.; Family Crisis Services, Inc.; Finney County Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Garden City Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Garden City Family YMCA; Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland; Habitat for Humanity; Kansas Children's Service League; Meals on Wheels.

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