The Sedalia-Pettis County United Way’s mission is to unite people and resources to improve lives in the community.
Thursday morning, it made another investment in Pettis County, this time to help some of the youngest residents by granting its first Community Impact Grant to the Smithton R-VI School District’s Lil’ Tigers Learning Center.
“Three years ago we decided to look at ways in which we could best utilize the gifts we have received from our donors,” said Staci Harrison, executive director for the Pettis County United Way. “We decided to make the transition from a Community Chest model in our grants to a Community Impact Grant model.
“The focus of our grants is the educational, income and health concerns in our community as well as being a safety net,” she added. “After meeting with various focus groups we determined that the most critical need holding individuals back was income.”
Harrison explained that for many residents their median family income was $10,000 below the national average.
“We want to work to help raise that but we realize in whatever we do the way to do that is to offer residents a hand up but not a hand out,” Harrison said. “The grants need to focus on projects that are sustainable and ongoing and we realize that education is one of the best ways we can ensure this.”
That is where the Smithton School District comes into the picture.
The district recently has been focusing on its preschool program as part of its Strategic Plan.
“After listening to our community we realized that one of the needs that we found to be most import was for an affordable preschool,” Superintendent Dr. Matthew Teeter said. “The district completely funds our preschool and after changes that were made to the program, last year we knew our patrons wanted us to look in other directions.
“We recently purchased a home adjacent to the school that we are renovating for our preschool that will also have space for a community facility,” Teeter added. “It will be an area where our Parents as Teachers coordinator Mindy Rehmer can meet with parents who are part of that program as well as a place for everyone in the community.”
The district is finalizing a schedule for the facility’s use by the community.
During the 2015-16 school year, the district’s preschool was all-day and served nine students. Now they have 20 students enrolled in the program for the upcoming year.
This year, 3-year-old preschool students will attend from 8 to 11 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Four-year-old students will attend five days a week from noon to 3 p.m. The cost is $80 a month for 3-year-olds and $100 for students who are 4.
“We are still accepting students in the program and will continue to do so throughout the year,” Smithton Elementary Principal Dawn McNeely said. “It would be phenomenal if we could have 20 students at each grade level but we are very pleased with the increased enrollment and the changes we are implementing for the program.
“Part of the United Way grant has been used to purchase a new curriculum (High Scope Curriculum) that we think will be great for our students,” she added. “It focuses on a lot of problem solving skills which is an area we emphasize in the district’s curriculum in all our grades from kindergarten to our seniors.”
The initial grant is for $3,750.
“After the initial phase of the grant is completed, the school will have to provide some documentation which we will review,” Harrison said. “After they review we will distribute the remaining one-fourth of the grant for a total of $5,000 annually.
“The grant is designed to be a three-year grant so the district can receive a total of $15,000 over the course of the three-year period,” she added. “We received a number of applications for the grant and we awarded two in our first year.”
Melita Dey Nursery was the recipient of the second grant, Harrison said.
“One of the things I think we all realized is that if you want to improve a person’s life it starts with their education,” said Dave Clippert, a SPCUW board member who also serves on the Community Impact Committee. “If we can help a child with their education at an early age then hopefully they will not have so much of an uphill battle in the future.”
SPCUW Board President Mark Hirshberg agreed with Clippert regarding the impact the grant for not only the children but the community as a whole.
“We are all very excited about the shift in the focus of our grants and the planning that we have done as we move forward in our work,” Hirshberg said. “We’re providing help to our community when they are as young as possible; that’s when we have to start.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.