Funding push for kids’ programs under way | VailDaily.com
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Funding push for kids’ programs under way

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” This fall parents will be able to find information, links and everything from parenting advice to news about children’s recreational programs on Eagle County’s “Network of Care” Web site.

“There will be health information, community service announcements, and links to national and local Web sites. It will always be updated,” said Kate Forinash, county director of health and human services.

The Web site is one of several programs county residents can expect to see as part of Bright Start, a county early childhood development program funded by the county, community, and federal and state grants.

Program organizers have begun approaching community organizations and businesses to raise $354,810 for Bright Start, despite the fact that a tax that would have funded the early childhood development program was voted down last November.

The county has given $700,000 to the program and will match the money raised from community sources. The rest will come from state and federal grants, making the total budget for Bright Start about $1.5 million.

Fund raisers started talking to potential donors in mid-July and have raised 20 percent of their goal so far, said Bright Start campaign chairman Ed O’Brien.

They have approached several town councils, including Gypsum, Minturn and Avon, the Eagle County School District, and the Vail Recreation District. Fund raisers hope to have a large part of the money raised by mid-September, O’Brien said. He declined to say which organizations have committed to a contribution.

Fundraisers said the community has been receptive and many businesses see the need to provide resources for workers and their children.

“The community is really embracing the need of partnering with the county,” said county commissioner Sara Fisher.

“The majority of people I’ve talked with encourage me and the other commissioners to find way to address the needs and deficits in child care. Most acknowledged that needs exist and want to know how we can address it in incremental measures,” she said.

Fundraisers have asked the school board for $116,000 over a span of three years. The board is considering the request, but did not commit to making a decision, said director of elementary education Heather Ebert.

O’Brien said it is ideal to partner with the school district.

“A substantial part of our mission preparing kids to go to school,” O’Brien said.

However, at least one organization has declined to contribute. The Vail Recreation District board supports the objectives of Bright Start, but funding their existing children’s’ programs take top priority, said the board in a press release.

“We’re playing to our strengths. We have lots of opportunities for social and educational growth for children,” said rec district Executive Director Michael Ortiz, naming the agency’s sports leagues and summer camps as a few examples.

The county is also sponsoring “Eagle County’s Got Talent,” a talent contest whose proceeds go to benefit Bright Start.

“We’re looking for amateur acts ” kids, dogs, groups,” said Forinash, who is also co-chairman of Bright Start.

Applicants can submit videos for the preliminary rounds, she said After the semi-final rounds on Sept. 8, the final acts will perform at the Vilar Center and on television.

Bright Start is already in action. Besides the upcoming Web site, Bright Start also funded the Colorado Smile Makers program, providing area children with free dental work from a mobile dental clinic.

The county has also recently hired a family and child care specialist, who will help people who provide child care from their homes become licensed, Forinash said.

“The program has started already,” O’Brien said. “The question is, ‘How large will the program be?'”

However, some residents say the program should not be funded at all.

Edward’s resident Kay Caspersen said that voters showed they did not feel early childhood development should have been publicly funded by voting against it last November. She said that County Commissioner Arn Menconi is responsible for Bright Start, and – though the program was approved by all three county commissioners – that is one reason she supports ongoing efforts to recall the commissioner.

O’Brien disagreed, saying this version of the program is nothing close to the original tax issue.

“This is a dramatically scaled down version. This is one-year commitment on the part of the county as opposed to a tax increase,” he said.

He said that affording child care and housing is difficult in Eagle County, and most people admit it is a problem.

“Parents are working more away from home, and today there’s a serious need four governmental help with child raising,” he said. “You only get to raise a kid once and if it’s not right the first time, that’s a bad kid for life.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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