UNION — Monday night’s annual meeting of the Union County First Steps Partnership Board began with a presentation from UCFS Executive Director Beth Thompson. The theme of Thompson’s presentation was an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and Thompson referred to Union County as “our village.” To show the local need for programs such as UCFS, Thompson provided the following statistics:
- There are approximately 1,900 children ages 0-5 living in Union County, and 113 babies were born at Wallace Thompson Hospital last year.
- Over 500 of Union County’s youngest children are living below poverty level.
- In 2010, almost 20 percent of all live births for residents of Union County were to teenage mothers.
- Twenty-five percent of babies were born to mothers without high school diplomas.
- Fifteen percent of babies were born with a low birth weight, making them more at risk for developmental delays.
Thompson pointed out that some children are not born into a situation that supports preparation at home for scholastic success.
“That’s why First Steps exists — to weave together the early childhood fabric within our community to ensure that all children receive the best possible start in life,” Thompson said. “This does not mean that it is solely the responsibility of First Steps to provide services and supports for children. It means that First Steps is here to foster the partnerships and collaboration that can reach as many of these children as possible. After all, it’s our village, and it takes all of us.”
Thompson also discussed the impact UCFS made in Union County last year, such as investing $232,106 in programs and services for young children. She said $141,819 of that was from state appropriations and was leveraged to secure an additional $90,764 from private and in-kind donations, meaning that 64 cents was leveraged from every dollar the state provided.
Thompson said 648 children were enrolled in the Imagination Library program last year, receiving an age appropriate book each month until their fifth birthday through the United Way of the Piedmont and The Dolly Parton Foundation. Thompson also said 20 rising kindergartners participated in the Countdown to Kindergarten program; 35 families were served through the Early Steps to School Success Home Visiting Program; another 65 families were served through the Book Bag Exchange program; and 60 area child care workers attended quality child care training programs.
“In keeping with the theme, ‘It Takes a Village,’ our community is blessed to have many Early Childhood Partners stepping up to the challenge,” Thompson said, naming partners such as Union County Schools, Save the Children, The United Way of the Piedmont and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, the City of Union and the Center for Child Care Career Development.
Thompson mentioned several ways in which UCFS is continuing to work in Union County this year, including partnering with the Union County Advanced Technology Center to support 10 child care workers in completing ECD 101 (an early childhood credential course); continuing the Early Steps to School Success home visitation program reaching over 40 children through home visits and over 100 children in the book bag exchange program; and continuing programs such as the Imagination Library, Countdown to Kindergarten and Nurse Family Partnership programs in Union County.
Thompson concluded by saying that this is a very important year for early childhood programs and services in Union County and the state as the legislation that created First Steps is scheduled to expire on June 30.
“We need ‘our village’ to remind our legislators of the importance of these programs and services, especially the far reaching impact that early childhood investment has,” Thompson said. “Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate that would allow this investment to continue. Please share with members of the local delegation how important this is for our community.”
Thompson then introduced Union County School District literacy specialists Dena Addis and Patsy Farmer, who discussed the importance of early literacy skills. Addis presented a quote from Paul Kropp:
“Between the ages of four and nine, children will have to master some 100 phonics rules, learn to recognize 3,000 words with just a glance and develop a comfortable reading speed approaching 100 words a minute. They must learn to combine words on the page with half-dozen squiggles called punctuation into something — a voice or image in their minds that gives back meaning.”
Addis and Farmer compared data taken from Monarch and Foster Park elementary schools in 2007 to data taken from the same schools in 2012. The data showed that 21 percent of kindergartners were ready to read Level 1 material when they arrived at kindergarten in 2007, while a whopping 89 percent were ready to read Level 1 material in 2012.
“We can deliver that right to the hands of First Steps,” Addis said, commending the program for putting books in the hands of young children.
Addis and Farmer also provided a fact stating a child should read or be read to at least one hour every day from the time they are four months old until they take the SAT if they want to attend a four-year college.
For more information about programs available through Union County First Steps, email email@example.com or call (864) 429-1748 ext. 306.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.