Receiving a free education still comes with a price for the 1,100 children in the Early Head Start and Head Start programs in Troup County.
It’s not the children or parents who pay, but the administrators of the program that must come up with 20 percent of matching funds, the rest of which is provided by the federal government. That job rests squarely on the shoulders of Virginia Thomas.
“The 20 percent is to show the government that we have community support, that the community knows we need Head Start here,” explained Thomas.
Thomas is the In-kind Advocate for the Head Start programs that are run by the Community Action For Improvement (CAFI) organization. She said the money referred as in-kind is a non-federal share, meaning the funds must be raised or donated by the community.
This year’s total: a little over $2.2 million. If the money’s not raised, Thomas said that will mean a reduction in federal dollars over the next fiscal year. According to Thomas, that’s just the beginning.
“If we don’t keep Head Start in this community, then we won’t be able to serve the children. They’ll suffer,” she said. “Early intervention works. We work with the children and mold them. When the children come in, they have a physical and dental care within the first 90 days. If a child is hungry, he can’t learn. If they can’t see, they can’t learn … this is not a daycare or babysitting service … we’re preparing out children for the public school system.”
Early Head Start serves children ages six weeks to 3 years old. Head Start works with children ages 3 and 4 years old. CAFI also helps pregnant moms. All three programs come at no cost to the client, which is one of the reasons why they need help raising in-kind funding.
“It assists getting supplies for the classroom,” said Thomas. “It helps us build new playgrounds, provide medical attention and resources for parents” among other things.
Thomas said while the in-kind funding can be cash donations, it can’t be counted towards the $2.2 million dollars until an item has been purchased with that money. Similarly, the non-federal share must be used the same way the 80 percent of federal funds are in the Head Start programs.
For instance, volunteer services can be counted as in-kind funding when services are provided without cost and are used as a necessary part of the Head Start programs. Services include story-time reading, volunteering in a classroom, serving meals, making repairs or renovating buildings and classrooms, yard work and more. Donations can be items from paper and books to toys and stuffed animals, diapers and formula, but only if they’re used in a classroom setting or for parent groups within the Head Start programs.
“If people can donate something as simple as wood chips,” said Thomas. “You never know what we can use. We can do all great things with the children. The sky’s the limit when it comes to taking donations.”
Thomas is still trying to get the word out, in hopes of finding more volunteers and partnerships within the community. Thursday, CAFI Executive Director Edna Foster gave a presentation on the importance of Head Start to other educators and city leaders. The underlying message was clear: the Head Start programs don’t work without community support.
“We just need community involvement,” said Thomas. “We need to come up with 20 percent …. no ifs, ands or buts about it.”