Smart Beginnings gets grant

August 12, 2010

Smart Beginnings Martinsville-Henry County, a local coalition working to improve the quality of early education and care in the area, has received a $100,000 grant from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF).

Smart Beginnings Director Sheryl Agee said this is the third grant the program has received from VECF, which is a public-private partnership headquartered in Richmond. Smart Beginnings is funded by VECF, the Harvest Foundation and a variety of smaller funders, she said.

The new, two-year grant will support the coalition’s efforts to build partnerships with business and community leaders and to increase public engagement around the importance of providing young children, ages birth to 5, with quality early childhood experiences, a news release said. Those early experiences are essential to children’s later success in school and in life, according to Agee and the release.

The grant also will be used “to continue collaborative efforts with community agencies through coordinated parent education and information and referral services for family support; increase the identification and referral of children with developmental delays through regular assessments ... and to launch and test a web-based data management system” to track child outcomes for future program development,” the release said.

To better identify children with developmental delays, Smart Beginnings will work with local doctors to pilot the Assuming Better Child Health & Development program (ABCD), Agee said.

She explained that doctors often don’t have enough time to help parents learn about resources available in the community and how those resources might help their children. Through the pilot program, an early childhood advocate will meet with parents as they take their children to the doctor and help educate them about resources available and about the importance of things such as reading to children, Agee said.

She hopes to begin that program by the end of the year at Bassett Family Practice, a clinic that is part of the Martinsville-Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness.

The grant also will be used to provide training to local day-care providers to prepare them to take part in the Virginia Star Quality Initiative, Agee said. The initiative is a statewide system that rates day-care providers to help families make more informed choices about where to send their children for childcare and preschool.

The grant requires a 200 percent, or $200,000, local match, Agee said. Of that, about $135,000 has been raised, she said. Smart Beginnings is working to raise the rest through grants, local foundations and business partners, and other revenue streams, she said.

The United Way of Henry County and Martinsville will serve as the fiscal agent for the grant, which is expected to impact the lives of about 4,000 local children during the next two years. That is the number of children from birth to 5 years old in the city and county, Agee said.

“It’s exciting to collaborate with such a diverse cross-section of business and community leaders to give our future workforce the solid foundation they deserve,” she said in the release.

Smart Beginnings operates The Starting Place in Liberty Fair Mall, a resource center for parents and caretakers of young children. To learn more, visit The Starting Place, call 403-5963 or visit

“Smart Beginnings Martinsville Henry County has enthusiastically pursued ways to improve the system of early childhood care and education,” said Ann Vandervliet Stratton, program officer for the VECF’s Southside region. “As a result, organizations that serve young children and families are working together in new ways. As they continue to prepare as many children for success in kindergarten as possible, they prepare the region for economic vitality.”


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