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Head Start in Dunkirk, Silver Creek and Westfield to benefit from grant

By Katrina Fuller

April 9, 2015 , Westfield Republican

A substantial grant awarded to Chautauqua Opportunities Inc. will soon be used to create openings in Early Head Start programs and aligned day care centers across the county.

The $1.3 million grant will also be used to expand services in Jamestown, Dunkirk, Silver Creek and Westfield.

"This was a special grant," said Matt Hamilton-Craft, director of Head Start and early education services for COI, about the federal grant that was announced recently. "It was specifically designed to expand Early Head Start and to incentivize daycare providers to partner with Early Head Start."

He added that the funding increase will allow Chautauqua Opportunities to expand program openings in multiple areas. The Chautauqua Opportunities Inc. Dunkirk facility will see an increase of 16 slots, which equates to an additional two classrooms, while the Lakeshore Child Care Center in Silver Creek will increase by 16 slots. Through a partnership with the Westfield YMCA, the area will see an increase of 24 openings in Early Head Start programming.

Hamilton-Craft said Jamestown will expand the home-centered Early Head Start model to include a center-based program at the Holy Family facility.

"We will have 24 additional slots there," he said. "We will be renovating the former preschool Montessori classrooms for this opportunity."

Early Head Start programs are geared toward providing educational, emotional, social and emotional health and nutritional services for children aged six weeks to 3 years old.

Hamilton-Craft said at-risk families and children will benefit, along with the entire community.

"This is a model our executive director, Roberta Keller, has been championing for many years," he said, speaking of Head Start partnering with local day care centers. "It will provide opportunities for 160 young parental figures to go to work and not have 30 percent of their income go to day care fees if they are making minimum wage. Also, COI will be hiring five more teachers along with the necessary support staff to go along with the employees our partners will hire. It's a win-win for everybody."

"We did have to apply (for the grant)," he added, saying the award was a competitive opportunity. "It was released as a notice of funding, of which they only offered a set amount - only about 60 or 70 opportunities. We did a comprehensive process of our own to talk to the day care centers."

Hamilton-Craft said that only centers willing to adopt the Head Start standards are applicable for the project, so only day cares who are willing to conform are eligible.

"Then, we had to respond to the notice," he said, adding they sent in a 100-page response. "We found out March 3 or 4 that we were being considered. After negotiations with Head Start, we were fortunate to get the award."

The award was only possible due to extraordinary effort by individuals and organizations throughout Chautauqua County, Hamilton-Craft said.

"In my opinion, we have one of the best programs in the country," he said. "But a lot of what we put into the program is due to the community and the collaborations within it. We have tons of partnerships that help build a nice continuum for families."

"It then becomes our responsibility to give back through partnership, which will hopefully encourage that kind of funding to keep coming into the county," he said adding that Chautauqua Opportunities is excited about the funding and the opportunities it will provide. "There are a whole bunch of purposes being served, but the goal is to give more and more kids exposure to developmentally appropriate care and education. We would hope that it will also have an impact four or five years down the road with fewer dollars being spent on behavioral issues in the future."

The Head Start program began as a summer program in 1965, named "Project Head Start" as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty," according to the Office of Head Start. The program was designed to react to the communities it served, and provide support and development for low-income children. In the past 50 years, Head Start has served more than 30 million children, and currently includes all-day programming and a wide array of services.



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