Editor's note:This is the third in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.
By BECKY MALEWITZ
Thanks to United Way funding, Smart Start of Southwest Kansas is working to get car seats to keep the littlest citizens of Finney County safe.
"This coming year, we received $2,000 to purchase car seats, and we are going to partner with local agencies like Parents as Teachers, Tiny K and Head Start to identify families in need of car seats," said Rebecca Clancy, director of Smart Start of Southwest Kansas.
Since 2005, Smart start has received United Way grants ranging from $1,000 to $2,000.
"We don't request a lot of money from the local United Way because we know there are a lot of other agencies that also need that funding for operating costs," Clancy said.
Smart Start is a primarily grant funded program through the Kansas Children's Cabinet and Trust Fund from dollars generated from Tobacco Settlement money. The organization, which began in 2005, focuses on supporting children from birth to age 5 through quality early childhood education, child health and early childhood development programs that help strengthen families.
Among some of its Finney County initiatives, Smart Start is working toward turning the Finney County Public Library into a Family Place Library, which encourages learning to read through interaction and play and offers free childhood workshops to families.
Smart Start also participates in the Born to Read Program, which sends books home with every baby born at St. Catherine Hospital.
"It feels good to know that you are helping every little one go home with some books," Clancy said.
Currently, there are 17 Smart Start agencies in Kansas, but Smart Start of Southwest Kansas serves the largest geographical area and most counties.
As part of the Smart Start grant, local agencies must match funding efforts to show that they are involved in the communities they are serving. Without Finney County United Way dollars, Smart Start would not have the cash match support they require for their grant.
"The biggest impact of partnering with United Way is that it gives us leverage to bring the Smart Start dollars back to western Kansas," Clancy said.
Clancy said buying car seats with United Way funding will directly fulfill an identified need in Finney County.
"It really is for families who without our assistance, wouldn't have a car seat. It's for those in need. Car seats change and they go out of date, and that is a big issue because many times when the third or fourth child comes, the first car seat isn't still in line with standards," she said.
With school back in session, Smart Start already is talking to its partnering agencies to figure out what kind of car seats they need right away.
"You would hate to have three infant seats sitting and what you really need is the next size, so we are trying to do some of that on an as-needed basis," Clancy said. "I will imagine by mid-fall, we will be looking to start getting some car seats out."
The United Way of Finney County is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign. The goal for 2013 is $550,000,
The 21 partner agencies for the 2013 United Way annual campaign are 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.