April 28, 2016
Martinsville and Henry County will be the first area to pilot a new program aimed at improving school readiness and work readiness for children and their parents.
Smart Beginnings Martinsville-Henry County received a three-year grant for $358,370 from the Harvest Foundation to create the Promising Neighborhoods program. This program is a targeted approach to what Smart Beginnings has done for many years, according to Director Melanie McLarty.
“We’re working with the entire family to create a pathway out of poverty,” McLarty said. “This two-generational model is about getting children in a high-quality childcare program, and supporting parents by connecting them to community resources that will assist them in meeting their needs and the needs of their children. Whether it’s a GED (General Education Development) certificate, job skills training or a higher-paying job, we’re working with the entire family and linking them to resources.”
Promising Neighborhoods targets four areas: quality learning for children, developmental screening for children, parenting education and employment coaching, and family literacy activities for parents and children.
This program, serving families with children under 5 years old, is very innovative, according to McLarty. She said the “buzz” around the two-generational approach really started in 2013-14 with the Annie Casey Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation.
“They determined that just having quality early childhood programs was not the only ticket to a successful life for these families,” she said. “We make a lot of referrals to all types of different resources within the community. If a parent really needs workforce coaching and programs, we’ll make sure they get there. We’re navigating with them, and the key will be the follow-up – making sure they get where they need to go.”
Two communities will serve as pilots for the program, including the Maplewood Housing Community and another community to be determined in Henry County. McLarty said she hopes to have Promising Neighborhoods up and running by June 30.
“We’re excited about it and are really looking forward to this program,” McLarty said. “We’ve had many planning meetings, and I’ve been working with my staff and community partners to get ready."
Tracey Scott-Harris, resident services coordinator for Community Housing Partners (CHP), works with residents at the Maplewood Housing Community to engage parents and their children to take advantage of the many programs offered by CHP.
“I think (Promising Neighborhoods) is a very positive program and will be a great benefit for the families here,” Scott-Harris said. “Support is the real benefit of this program. Many times, parents may not know what to do or who to go to for answers to questions they may have. Bringing programming here will make them feel more comfortable and secure in receiving any resources they may need.”
Tiffany Slusher, regional resident services coordinator for CHP, oversees resident services in southwest Virginia. Maplewood Housing is one of several properties within her purview.
“The great thing about (Promising Neighborhoods) is that they bring the program to the residents,” Slusher said. “People may look for reasons to say they can’t go, or transportation may be a barrier for them. When we bring it to them, it makes it much easier for them to attend."
Slusher said CHP provides a variety of programming to residents in the areas of education, health and wellness, financial stability, and social and environmental stewardship. By having relationships already in place through Scott-Harris, Slusher said she hopes CHP will be a partner in getting families signed up for Promising Neighborhoods.
“We really focus on the person,” Slusher said. “We’re a big believer that things happen through relationships. … We’re not here to judge. We’re here to support and give people a hand-up. We are building relationships and a rapport with our residents – it’s not just our job. We want residents to feel like they have an advocate in their corner, and someone they can genuinely trust.”
Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at Harvest Foundation, said Smart Beginnings “did an excellent job in pulling together key local, state and national partners to provide targeted services to some of our community’s most at-risk young children so they can begin kindergarten with the readiness skills they need to be successful. This means a brighter future for them and for Martinsville and Henry County.”
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