Holiday gifts and cheer given to less fortunate families

12/21/2007 8:00:00 AM

The University of Nevada, Reno's Early Head Start program received an outpouring of support for needy families this holiday season.  Local businesses donated money, toys, clothing and books, and adopted families in the spirit of making the holidays better for those less fortunate.

Early Head Start is a federally funded program that serves low-income pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers to three years old.  It gives families high-quality early education both in and out of the home, medical and dental care, and nutritional and other family-support services, free of charge.  In order to qualify for the program, families must meet the Federal Poverty Levels of Income.  For a family of four to qualify, their income needs to be below $20,650.

Jennifer Thornton is the Family Services Specialist of the Child and Family Research Center at the University. She said that the program started its holiday fundraising efforts by sending donation request letters in early November.  

"This year was incredible, we could not have asked for more," Thornton said. "The gifts and giving help the children in our program have the same kind of Christmas celebration that most children receive."

The University's Affirmative Action and Human Resources departments, the Nevada System of Higher Education Business Center North Human Resources, BCN Benefits, Worker's Compensation and Risk Management offices raised nearly $1,000, which was matched by the Wal-Mart Superstore on West Seventh Street in Reno. With the money, each of the 94 children in the program received a toy, hat and mittens.  

John and Ingrid Stolz, owners of Omboli Interiors Incorporated, generously donated $100 gift cards to every child, also from Wal-Mart.

Basalite Concrete Products donated 15 food baskets to the program's neediest families.  The employees raised the money throughout the year through hot dog sales, Pampered Chef programs and other means.  

Ganther Melby Architects adopted two families and the Department of Community Development for the City of Sparks adopted a family from Sparks.   

The driving force for the fundraiser was Leslie Nady, manager of BCN Human Resources.  

"She has been truly amazing," Thornton said of Nady. "She got 89 books donated to our children from Amazon and also 40 pairs of mittens from Sierra Trading Post.  When one of our parents received the gifts and gift card, they cried."

Thornton said that she is inspired to get started earlier next year.

"Sharing a holiday with someone else and getting connected is what it's all about," Thornton said.

Early Head Start promotes parent education; the higher the educational level of the family equates to a better opportunity for a higher-paying job.  There are 32 families working on their educational goals trying to obtain their high school diplomas, GED's, or college degrees.  The target population for the Early Head Start services is the teen parent.  The program aims to keep teen parents in school by providing free childcare and encouraging them to finish their education.

Early Head Start also serves children with developmental delays and disabilities, and about 15 percent of the children in the program have special needs. The program provides services for children who could normally not attend a center-based program because of their needs.  It also provides developmental screens for all of the children involved, helps families obtain health insurance and encourages parents to keep up on their well-baby checks.  

The teachers and caregivers are encouraged to think outside the box, join together to change their learning environments and to allow the children full use of all areas within the center.  All of the children are able to rotate through all the rooms on a daily basis.  This allows the children to create bonds with a larger peer group and other adults, form secure bonds between teachers and have the opportunity to pursue their individual interests.

"We are continually interacting and responding to them, which creates trusting relationships," Thornton said. "Teaching them to respect things builds a sense of community."

The program's two classrooms are categorized, one being the atelier, science and sensory exploration area. The second is the housekeeping, building and sensory integration area.  The common area in between the two classrooms is the large movement, music, transportation and manipulative area.  Outside and playground spaces are an extension of the classrooms and are also used for art, sensory exploration and science.

Compared to public schools and other day care centers where there may be one caregiver per 10 or more children, Early Head Start is required to have two caregivers per every four children.

The program is operated through the College of Health and Human Sciences' Department of Human Development and Family Studies out of the Nelson Building at 401 W. Second Street. The Child and Family Research Center (CFRC) is part of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). The CFRC is accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, a division of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Early Head Start is always encouraging people to volunteer or to become an intern.  Volunteers are required to take a tuberculosis test.  The program pays for fingerprinting which is also required.

To find out more or to volunteer at the University's Early Head Start program, visit the Web site or call 327-5100.


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