Huffer Child Care Resource & Referral Named HUGE Idea Grant Recipient

It’s not every day that the Fayette County Foundation hands out a grant of $50,000.

That’s exactly what it did Wednesday, however, as the FCF announced its “The Big Huge Idea” grant awardee, an organization with huge ideas of its own to bring the community together regarding early childhood learning and health.

Huffer Child Care Resource and Referral, a Muncie-based organization which covers a 10-county region including Fayette County, was the recipient of the grant award, and the organization now will be charged with hiring a coordinator for a yet-to-be-named early learning coalition in Fayette County.

As has been evidenced over the past couple of years, with its “Jump Start” kindergarten readiness program and its efforts with local pre-schools, the FCF has made early childhood development a main focus of its efforts. Those efforts, though, don’t address a gap in early childhood development which is currently lacking in Fayette County – the gap between birth and the latter stages of early childhood development.

It’s that gap that Liane Nickey, program director for Huffer Child Care Resource and Referral, hopes to help Fayette County address.

Her organization already works hand-in-hand with a coalition in Delaware County, By5, which focuses on early childhood development.

“What we want to bring to Fayette County is a coalition that’s based around early childhood,” she said. “What we really want to be able to do is model it after a coalition that’s based out of Muncie, By5. They’ve been able to do a lot of exciting things for Delaware County and the Muncie area, so with our connection with By5 – we’re the childcare resource and referral agency – we really want to make sure that communities have an understanding of the importance of high-quality care for children, and how that affects their future.

“We found in Delaware County when we’ve been able to bring in business leaders, educators, childcare providers, when we’ve been able to bring those groups together, we’re able to get a whole lot more done in the area of early childhood,” Nickey continued. “It takes a whole group of people, not just one group, to get this done.”

When it comes to Fayette County, the coalition will be modeled off of Delaware County’s By5 organization, with part of “The Big Huge Idea” grant funds to hire a coordinator for the Fayette County coalition.

“(They) will work with us, By5’s director … and there will be mentoring provided, to help (them) get this all started in this area,” Nickey said. “Which would be bringing some of the business leaders and educators together to design some kind of strategic plan around early childhood, and how to get this started in this community for families.”

Among the goals are increasing high-quality child care, increasing the numbers of slots available for high-quality child care, and increasing awareness of the benefits of high-quality child care.

“That’s what this coalition will be able to do for this community,” Nickey added.

Katherine Good, program director for the FCF, said this effort is one of the biggest the FCF has taken on in its history, and has high hopes for the work that can be accomplished with the grant funding.

“They’re not just going to create a strategic plan in a binder and let it sit on a shelf,” she said of Huffer Child Care Resource and Referral. “That’s only the beginning. The coordinator of our program will be fundraiser, connecting these organizations together. It will be ‘let’s figure out what we need, and implement those things.’”

While the FCF has been quite involved in recent years with early childhood education, through its “Jump Start” and “Preschool Matters” initiatives, those efforts only scrape the surface of the early childhood arena.

“We also know those aren’t everything our county needs, any county needs,” Good said.

Rather, the coalition the grant funding will help create will cover all areas, ranging from health of the child to health of the mother, families, education, brain development and the impact of early childhood on the community.

“You think of it as a whole, targeted approach,” Good said. “Not just get them ready for kindergarten or something like that.”

“We want to bring a wealth of knowledge to the community so they know what brain development is, and how important that is, from the beginning until they start kindergarten,” Nickey said. “Ninety-five percent of a child’s brain is developed by the time they’re age 3. So what we do in those early years is really important to get started.

“We don’t want to look at it like just one group,” she continued. “Healthcare’s important, educators are important, the school system’s important. I think of it like a system of care, medical. Everyone’s involved in the system of care. If you think of the child, the child’s in the center of this, and they’re surrounded by a group of people – our churches, everybody’s involved in caring for this child.”

And giving local children what they need to be successful, not just in school but life, is the ultimate goal.

“If we can give them a good beginning – a lot of it’s based around social and emotional wellness – if we can give them a good beginning, and help them all through their school life and after, and even help the parent before they have the child, we’re going to make it that much more better for the community,” Nickey said. “Because you’re going to have productive citizens in your community, less likely to be put in jail, and more likely to graduate, go to school and bring something back to the community that’s going to be helpful.”

“These are the people that are going to fix your heart,” Good added. “These are the people who are going to fix your bridges. Do you really want them to operate at 75 percent, or do you want them to operate with all cylinders? It’s such an amazing opportunity.”

The goal is that, by November or December of this year, the coordinator will be hired, and then the effort will take place with goalposts of 2018, the coordinator reaching out to community stakeholders and meeting with them; 2019 will see the coalition establish its strategic plan and how to address the things impacting Fayette County’s early childhood situation; and 2020, implementing the actions to address those concerns in the strategic plan.

See Sunday’s News-Examiner for more details on the coordinator position and the proposed early learning coalition in Fayette County.