Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of stories highlighting the 21 agencies to receive United Way's annual campaign funds. The next article will run in Tuesday's edition of The Telegram.



Russell Child Development Center's Smart Start program helps kids hit the ground running.

Since 2005, the program has aimed to provide children, age birth to 5, with the health, learning and support they need in order to give them a running start once they begin preschool or kindergarten.

"We are helping children be healthy and better prepared to enter school, so that when they start school, they've had the immunizations, dental care, health and emotional support they need," Rebecca Clancy, program director, said. "They also have been given early learning opportunities so that when kindergarten comes around, they're really ready to learn and the families are ready to get them off to a good start."

"Smart Start is more of a strategy than a program," she said. "We're not necessarily an agency that provides direct services to children, we're more of a supporting funding source to those that are out there doing good work."

Some of the organizations that are doing this good work, thanks in part to funding provided to Smart Start by the Kansas Children's Cabinet and Trust Fund, include libraries, child-care providers, hospitals and health departments.

Smart Start is receiving funding from the Finney County United Way's annual campaign, and those funds will further help area youth.

"With our Finney County United Way dollars we receive, they stay in Finney County," she said. "Another service we provide is medical subsidy transportation for children age birth to 5 that need to get to physicians appointments and have to travel to Kansas City or Denver to get the care they need because of their fragile health."

The organization strives to bridge gaps in services to children and families of southwest Kansas. The program covers 13 counties in the area and is one of 17 Smart Starts in the state.

"We took on more of a regional approach. The majority of Smart Starts are funded for counties, where there are larger populations, but our idea was to cover all of southwest Kansas and bridge gaps in services for young children and families," Clancy said.

Smart Start supports 17 public libraries, including the Finney County Public Library, by providing them grant money, which they then can use as needed to provide early childhood services.

"Many of them use that to expand or purchase more resources for families and young children. Books they also create new story times for young children, so there's a place in the local community children can go and be a part of the learning group," Clancy said. "We work a lot with Madella Williams at FCPL, and she's been able to purchase a lot of resources and materials to use for that and she has been able to grow her groups. Madella is a great partner."

Smart Start also assists child-care providers.

"Because the majority of children 5 and younger are in child care prior to kindergarten, it is a very important place to give focus to. We provide support, technical assistance and classes to child-care providers. They can apply for grants through Smart Start to purchase items to enhance their childcare," Clancy said. "So we provide them with not only some financial support, but also with classes and training."

Another aspect of the support Smart Start provides to child-care providers is the Kansas Quality Rating Improvement System Program.

"That's for child-care providers, and providers that enroll in that program then receive the services of our KQRIS coach Susan Pearson, who works with them individually on a program improvement plan so that they can learn more about what a quality child-care environment looks like, and feel like they're doing the best job they can," Clancy said. "When they're in that program, they're eligible to receive a grant to help purchase things or make improvements to their quality."

Smart Start also partners with five area hospitals by funding Born to Read book bags to every newborn. They are provided in both Spanish and English, and the families also receive information on how important it is to start reading to their children.

United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries is one of several health departments that Smart Start partners with.

"We provide funding to UMMAM's Lifetime Smiles program so that they can provide more services to young children going into child-care providers' homes by talking to the children about proper dental care," Clancy said.

Clancy said that because Smart Start has a relatively small staff, they are able to better maximize the grant money they provide to their partner organizations.

"Because we're such a small staff, the majority of our grant money is going out to the 13 counties, and we're really proud of that fact," she said.

Other United Way agencies that will receive funds for 2012 are Meals on Wheels, United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; Garden City Family YMCA; Kansas Children's Service League; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts; Playground Program; Catholic Social Services; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Habitat for Humanity; Finney County RSVP, Inc.; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; Community Day Care; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.

Smart Start

Address: 714 Ballinger St.

Phone: 275-1510

Director: Rebecca Clancy