Though there have been obstacles, funding is now in place to continue Head Start and Early Head Start services in Sampson County, helping to assist low-income families receive the tools needed to prepare their children for school. While the program is under the county’s control for the time being, a new grantee is being sought to take over the program in light of tight budgetary times.
Head Start funds in the amount of $2,162,247 have been received for a pre-school operation that caters to children ages 3 and 4, allowing services to continue for 345 students served in eight Head Start sites throughout the county.
Early Head Start services will continue at the end of its September 2011 fiscal year, extending services to 72 children and their families. The program, which currently provides services for infants and toddlers at its College Street site and at the Faith Academy Inc. site., has received total funding in the amount of $907,794 to be allocated through September 2012.
Program operations for this fiscal year began Aug. 17. Head Start director Lacy Bell Jr. said while the program will operate under the county for an additional year, program operating hours for children and staff have been adjusted.
“This year’s calendar for Head Start students will be reduced from 180 school days to approximately 161, thus reducing the actual number of staff workdays also,” he stated. “Early Head Start staff and students are currently posed to remain on their regular 12-month schedule.”
During the lead-up to the county’s 2011-12 budget approval, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners contemplated the future of Head Start with budget constraints in mind. While sufficient More at Four funds were in place to pay the local match required to fully fund the current program for 2011-12, that would essentially deplete the reserve funds and leave the county to foot the $214,000 difference to run the program in 2012-13. So the county relinquished control. Then, they were asked to take control again, a request made by the regional office while a replacement was sought.
Bell has maintained that he would like to see the program remain under the county, but understood the board’s dilemma. With the recent action by the county to serve as the interim grantee, Bell had concerns of the impact on Head Start’s 60 employees and 345 county children assuaged, as the program could stay with the county for at least a large part of 2011-12, if not its entirety. Even though the program has been cut somewhat, Bell is hopeful about the program’s future in Sampson County.
“Though other agencies will have this opportunity, actual program operations are still subject to remain right here in Sampson County,” said Bell. “The transition process of the Head Start program will take approximately nine to 10 months before a replacement is named. The extensive process will be headed by Office of Head Start to select the successful replacement grantee through a competitive process.”
Other agencies currently have the opportunity to submit bids to take control of the program. The window to accept applicants closes in little more than a week. According to Bell, the deadline for applicants is Oct. 3.
Those potential applicants are vying for a program that acts to benefit many across the county through eight sites located in Clinton, Garland, Harrells, Faison, Roseboro, Newton Grove and in the Midway community. Seven of the eight have obtained the five-star licensing rating, the highest issued by the state’s Division of Child Development.
Each Head Start enrollee — along with their family — receives an array of services designed to give children ages 3-5 more opportunities as they prepare to enter kindergarten, allowing for a productive educational beginning that, studies show, leads to a more successful life.
Children receive health and dental services, three meals each day, screenings and any referrals for any physical or medical condition that may be hindering them. Additionally, all families receive goal-setting assistance and training assistance that aim to help them become more successful and better advocates for their children and themselves, Bell noted. Transportation services are also provided to as many enrollees as possible within the service area.
Bell attributed the success of the program to its many dedicated employees past and present, as well as the parents, community partners, friends, Policy Council representatives and proponents, including the Board of Commissioners. The Head Start director said it is his hope the board will continue “in one form or another” to work closely with the new provider to continue a high level of comprehensive quality services to children and families in Sampson.
“Head Start has made a tremendous impact on children and families here in Sampson County for more than 40 years,” said Bell, who has served as director for the last 32 years. “Without Head Start many families or at least one member of the household would not have been able to work or even pay for childcare due to the increasing high cost of childcare.”
Over the past 15 years, Sampson County Head Start/Early Head Start program has risen from a $900,000 program to one that comprises over $3 million in permanent funding, Bell said. In that time, the program has nearly doubled its enrollment. And, Bell added, that does not include program upgrades that have brought classroom furniture, computers, new playground equipment, new buses and vans to the operation. Additional grant funds were acquired to purchase a “much-needed” modular unit at Roseboro Head Start for children and families served in the Roseboro area.
Through the years, the program has also helped give local people jobs, most recently with the Early Head Start. Bell said he was thankful for the participation in the program and proud of the impact it has had in the community.
“Head Start is a very viable program to Sampson County, touching the lives of some of the most vulnerable children and families who need services offered by the program,” said Bell, “not to mention the number of jobs created by the program, as well as the amount of revenue and tax dollars produced here in Sampson County.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.