By Marc Shaffer
My involvement in the Centurions Leadership Program gave a broad overview of the KC metro and how everything connects; businesses, charities, education, etc. It led me to want to volunteer in my own backyard, where I live and work, in Overland Park.
I was first introduced to Growing Futures Early Education Center (then known as Head Start of Shawnee Mission) in 2014 when they applied as a beneficiary of the Overland Park South Rotary Club’s annual Jazz in the Woods event. Like many others in our community, I was surprised by the poverty in Johnson County. Did you know that based on 2017 census data, more than 30,000 residents are living in households with income at 100% of the federal poverty level? In 2019, for a family of four, that is an annual income of $25,750. Fortunately, in Johnson County, we have Growing Futures Early Education Center to assist vulnerable families with their mission of nurturing children and strengthening families to enrich the community.
As a Board Member, I’ve learned more about the importance of early childhood education and the impact it can have on the future success of the child. I’m amazed at how little attention and funding gets paid to support this critical time for development and it is better preparing me for starting my own family in the near future.
Growing Futures Early Education Center is a Head Start program for vulnerable children and families living in Johnson County, Kansas. The organization is a not-for-profit organization providing quality early education opportunities and family support services for children in Johnson County. Growing Futures opened its doors in 1965 as a Head Start summer enrichment program for 17 preschool-aged children from low-income families. Today they serve around 250 low-income children and their families with Early Head Start and Head Start programs. In addition, they offer opportunities for any family to benefit from their quality early education program with competitive rates and no income eligibility requirements.
Although their program has grown since 1965 to meet the increasing needs of Johnson County families, their funding has not kept pace with the demand for services. During the last decade, Johnson County's population grew by 20%, while at the same time, the number of people living in poverty increased by 134%. Growing Futures regularly maintains a waitlist of more than 100 children.
Although my Rotary Club was able to raise money to benefit Growing Futures through Jazz in the Woods, SoJo Summerfest and the Village Crawfish Festival, it wasn’t enough.
Growing Futures is funded, in part, through federal and state grants. They are currently required to raise more than $415,000 in private/community dollars each year to meet matching requirements for federal grant funding. Beyond that, significant additional funds are required to operate their program and fully serve enrolled families in our community who rely on them to provide comprehensive family services that support their children’s success.
Not only does Growing Futures help with education, they also help with what most might consider the basics: health and nutrition.
Under the direction of their Health and Nutrition Specialist, all enrolled children and their families are connected with a primary health care provider so that children receive regular physicals and/or well-baby or well-child exams. The Health and Nutrition Specialist tracks immunization records and provides referrals as needed. Each child receives regular growth assessments and hearing and vision screens, verbal lead screens and TB screens. Children attending center-based care at Growing Futures brush their teeth daily on site. The Health and Nutrition Specialist works with the family to attain dental exams, including cleanings, and dental and fluoride treatments from local dentists; all without having to leave the Center.
Daily meal service is also a vital part of their program. As you can imagine, children who are hungry are not prepared to learn. Food modifications made on a daily basis accommodate children with special needs. I was saddened to find that the only meals a few of the students receive are those provided while on site at the Center.
To learn more about Growing Futures and the families they serve, please consider being my guest at a Crayon Box Tour. They offer regular one-hour tours of the Center to increase awareness about the program and services in the community. Guests will get to meet some of the terrific kids and visit the classrooms. They’ll learn about the program and the comprehensive services they offer the children and their families.
I’m excited to have joined the Growing Futures Board in 2019 but realize that additional assistance is needed from the community. Any and all help is appreciated outside of volunteering at the Center.
- $50 can provide classroom supplies for one child for an entire school year.
- $150 can provide transportation for one field trip per classroom.
- $250 can provide diapers and wipes for one infant/toddler for one year of child care.
- $500 can provide a nutritious lunch for one child for one year.
- $1,000 can provide childcare for one infant for one month.
The Bright Futures Annual Lunch is another great learning opportunity to see how the Center operates. The luncheon is hosted every April and I’d be happy to have you at my table to see how the Center helps enrolled families have access to a variety of comprehensive support services including health and nutrition services, mental health, dental health, family advocacy, and family engagement opportunities.
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Published for the blog on December 3, 2019 by Searcy Financial Services, your Overland Park, Kansas Fee-Only Financial Planner and Investment Manager.