Sharing resources

Published 11:38 am Monday, January 16, 2017

WINDSOR – Children are growing, and so too are the organizations that serve them.

The former Albemarle Smart Start Partnership, now renamed the Albemarle Alliance for Children and Families, even has an auxiliary of the parent organization it believes will benefit the children of Bertie County: Better Beginnings for Bertie’s Children.

The Alliance received $52,540 from Bertie County in the county’s 2016-17 budget.

At the Jan. 3 meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners, Dr. Denauvo Robinson, president of the Alliance, and Ms. Bobbi Holley of Better Beginnings for Bertie’s Children presented an update to the Commissioners on the latest numbers gathered through the Alliance’s Kid Find program.

“We feel very good about what we’ve begun to do, and we just want to give you an update on what we’ve been doing and a little foreshadowing of what we’re getting ready to do,” Robinson told the Board.

The Albemarle Smart Start Partnership currently provides pre-K and other family support services to some 3,000 children a year in Bertie, Gates, Pasquotank, Camden and Currituck counties, Robinson said. Those services will continue under the partnership’s new name, he said. The thing that is changing, he said, is the organization’s new focus on building alliances to prepare children for a global economy.

On its website, Smart Start states that it was created in 1993 as a public/private partnership through the N.C. Partnership for Children, Inc., to provide services, like pre-K programs and child-care subsidies, to prepare children to learn when they enter kindergarten. The Partnership for Children is supported by state funding, though its latest annual report notes its state funding has declined since 2008 despite a rising population of children statewide.

Kid Find is designed to find children between the ages of three-and-four years old and to connect the childrens’ parents with pre-school resources available within the service area. Most of these resources are available at no cost, and Holley says studies have shown that children perform better later in their pre-school academics if they are better exposed to pre-school learning and socialization.

Holley admitted she could not provide a complete accounting of the number of children that have been identified in the program; and added that in order to spread the word on available resources, here the group has been visiting day-care facilities in the county, but warned there is a wariness involved among some of these outlets.

“You do have some programs (day-care) that are not licensed in the county, and they are under the radar,” Holley said. “We are just looking at the regulated ones that are licensed where we can go in and actually work with those programs. Because a lot of the parents work outside the county, a lot of these facilities try to work with the parents.”

Holley stated that unregistered daycares are typically wary of working the Kid Find or Better Beginnings program as they are afraid the organization wants to “close them down,” but the goal of the program is “outreach, and getting resources into these daycares to raise the bar,” for children’s education.

“We still have a ways to go,” Holley cautioned. “This is just a start of going along with the whole program of trying to find our children.”

Holley said they are looking at more than the Head Start programs, but as many of the programs available that can take three-and-four year olds.

“Bertie has a lot of kids,” she remarked.”What Kid Find will do is make it available for parents to call in to the office and ask about child-care.  We have a school readiness booklet available for parents; and for the social media generation we’ve created a website on how to call us and to get in contact with us.”

“It’s not just dealing with the child care program, but we can also actually refer them back to (Department of Social Services), Rural Health, Vidant Bertie; and wherever families need these services,” she concluded.

Commissioner Ronald ‘Ron’ Wesson, who serves on the board of the Alliance, told his fellow Commissioners that identifying these kids and placing them into slots is vital.

“We have 1,012 potential slots, and only about 412 of them have been filled,” Wesson said. “We’re going to bring back the numbers that will not only impress you, but give these kids the start we think they need.”

“We just want to make sure our families understand what school readiness means for Bertie County,” added Holley. “We want to make sure those scores are improving by the time the kids reach the fourth grade.”

“We just want to share information with them,” implored Robinson. “It’s difficult to un-learn, to become unaware; we just want to make them more aware.”

Mona Gilliam, principal at West Bertie Elementary School and a collaborative Board member of the Alliance, emphasized the importance of literacy programs, and the need for preschool education in regards to test scores later in a child’s academic life.

“Our research shows a deficit of about 4,000 words that are spoken when our children are compared (to others in more cosmopolitan areas across the state),” said Gilliam. “The words they’re hearing allow them to not only socialize, but to communicate more effectively.”

Commissioner Tammy Lee shared that Rev. Laura Early of All God’s Children Church in Aulander was planning a literacy program in Colerain sometime this summer.

“If we can just tie in our support, I know great things can happen for Bertie County,” Gilliam resolved.

The Commissioners thanked Better Beginnings and the Alliance for their presentation.  Holley said the group hopes to return for another report to the Board sometime this spring.