Community businesses, families help Early Head Start

11/5/2008 - By: Alix Cirac

More than 10 families and representatives from community businesses gathered this fall to provide outdoor playground equipment and landscaping for Early Head Start, a federally funded and University-managed preschool program for 2- and 3-year-olds from low-income families. The preschool, located on Comstock Drive at the north end of campus, has had practically no equipment or landscaping in the 10 years since its opening.

"Preschools are required by law to provide their children with 20 minutes of outdoor playtime twice a day," said Vicki Martinez, a child care worker at the University's Child and Family Research Center who has worked at Early Head Start for four years. "Depending on the weather, we take our kids out twice a day for 45 minutes, which was difficult before when they didn't have any play equipment."

This is the first, community-based volunteer project on this scale for Early Head Start, Martinez said. The project netted a host of contributions, which included: playground equipment, labor and monetary donations from Omboli Interiors; flower beds by Hammond Homes and Construction; plants and trees from Artistic Gardens; plants and materials from Home Depot, which volunteered 12 workers to landscape the site; a bark donation and drip system from the University's Building and Grounds department; granite bench seats by Pavers by Porters; playground tunnels from Granite Construction; a lunch donation from Port of Subs and Joan Mann; outdoor decorative art donated by Kim Jamie; concrete donated by Great Basin Construction; and the donation of time and labor from the children's families and University student volunteers. 

"This took hundreds of hours of volunteer work, thousands of dollars, and kind community members to improve the lives of our Early Head Start children on campus," said Mary Schuster, an employee at the preschool for 19 years. 

Sixteen children are enrolled in the program, and Martinez said the outdoor playground will aid their development. 

"The new equipment is not only more pleasing to they eye, but the kids can work on their motor skills and coordination," she said. "They are so much more engaged, and they're able to build on muscles that they were unable to before."

The campus' Early Head Start families and teachers hosted a dedicational spaghetti feed dinner for the volunteers Oct. 30. 

"We have so much more now than we did," Martinez said. "The kids are much better off and we really can't thank the people who donated and volunteered enough."


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