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Program takes aim at poverty
Mary Viegas is energized about developing a new plan of action when it comes to investing in the education of children and families.
As director of Child and Family Services with the Glenn County Office of Education, Viegas plans to beat down the door of every philanthropic organization in order to fund programs that will have the biggest impact when it comes to improving lives.
"Our mission is to provide a variety of quality early childhood educational programs that help families and their children break the cycle of poverty," said Viegas.
Glenn County has a 17.7 percent unemployment rate, Viegas said, with 68 percent of all children eligible for free or reduced meals.
Viegas just returned from the Los Angeles conference last week, which was funded almost entirely by Johnson & Johnson.
"I was responsible for the trip down there, but Johnson & Johnson paid for the hotel and all the meals," she said. "It was such a great opportunity."
Glenn County preschool children are blissfully unaware that investing in their education during a critical time of brain development could have a positive impact on their lives and the lives of their families.
At Glenn County's Head Start on Thursday, 4-and-5-year-olds from Orland and Willows read books, played games and worked in their small garden with little worry that state and federal funding cuts may threaten programs.
Glenn County Office of Education operates only one year-round Head Start program in Willows, which is open to children throughout the county.
The remaining 12 centers in Orland, Hamilton City and Willows will start back up in late August.
Although Head Start funding has remained stable in recent years, Viegas said periphery programs geared toward families as a whole have seen drastic cuts.
"We've lost about $700,000 in just a few years," Viegas said. "But even though there have been cuts, we are expected to provide the same services."
Child and Family Services has about a $4.4 million budget, which funds Head Start, early education programs, general child care, state preschool and food programs.
Glenn County serves about 500 children in various child care programs, with about 242 enrolled in Head Start, Viegas said.
About 105 children have parents in welfare-to-work programs geared at improving their chances for long term employment and self-sufficiency.
But in today's world, Viegas said educators are left looking for new opportunities to meet the needs of families, especially since changing eligibility requirements and diminishing funds are having a huge impact.
In order to meet those needs, Viegas plans to put together a "grant team" to assess community needs and seek funding opportunities and partnerships with other agencies in order to expand services to increase the number of children served in early education programs.
"I would like to increase the number of early education slots and service models to serve 60 more children by 2017," she said.
Viegas hopes to work with the Department of Social Services, First Five, local school districts and colleges and universities.
She anticipates the initial cost to put a management improvement plan together will be about $240,000.
Viegas said without maintaining or expanding quality child care programs in Glenn County during tough economic times, her biggest fear is that struggling families will revert to leaving children home alone, with siblings or unqualified care providers in order to go to work.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or email@example.com.