Going strong

Your Inc. Head Start based in Fort Dodge is still going strong despite cuts to its budget.

According to Bonnie Calvert, Head Start director, the program lost some of its federal funding due to the sequester earlier this year.

“With the sequester, we lost 5.27 percent of our grant funds. That was $93,027,” Calvert said. “I add that $27 on because every dollar counts.”

The cuts have affected staffing, Calvert said.

“When we had one of our management staff leave, we did not replace that position,” she said. “We’re all picking up extra jobs when we already have a full schedule.”

Head Start serves 178 children, with another 74 in its home-based Early Head Start program, in Webster, Humboldt, Hamilton and Wright counties, and with only 48 employees, including food service, management, office and teaching staff.

In Fort Dodge, the center-based Head Start meets at 3611 Maple Drive.

“Out at this building we have 130 children, some in the morning, some in the afternoon,” Calvert said. “We also partner with the Fort Dodge school district, so this year we’re serving 14 children that are state-funded, 4-year-olds. And Riverside (Early Learning Center) has three classrooms that have Head Start children, special needs children and state-funded.”

The program emphasizes early childhood development, Calvert said.

“We have classroom activities, but we also have a lot of parent involvement because that’s always been a big part of Head Start,” she said. “There’s a policy council made of parents and they help guide our activities and what we do.”

With less funding, changes had to be made with the center’s operations.

“Some staff have had to cut hours,” Calvert said. “In Eagle Grove, we partnered with the school district this year, so when that teacher left we didn’t hire a new Head Start teacher. We’re just paying to the school district and they implement our classes and we do the family support services.”

The program’s duration was reduced from five hours a day.

“We’ve had to cut back to three and a half hours a day,” Calvert said. “And, really, we’d like to have these children longer. We’d like to have longer days to support families when they work, and also because they’re in a very structured atmosphere, where we’re focused on the children all day long.”

With their federal grant, Head Start needs a community match of 25 percent of the grant.

“That’s about $488,000,” Calvert said. “If we rent this space for a few dollars less than it’s been appraised at, we can count that as an in-kind to match. When we have parents donate time or materials, or other community places do services for us at a lower cost, we can count that as in-kind.”

The program also needs cash donations for its services.

“We used to be able to write for program improvement grants that would allow us to put in this circle driveway for safety, improve your playground, your technology,” Calvert said. “It’s always important for us to have literature not only at the center, but also to support materials going home to families to support child literacy.”

Always a plus, Calvert said, is getting to be around the kids.

“I usually have to work with adults in my role now, but it’s always wonderful,” she said. “I love to come to the classrooms and see the children, and see them leaving with a happy face. The kids learn manners and helping themselves. And the kids brush their teeth after they eat. It’s a wonderful thing.”