Walla Walla Early Head Start to expand

The local program received a federal cash infusion that will extend its services.


WALLA WALLA -- Walla Walla's Early Head Start programs will be expanding this year thanks to a boost from the federal government.

The federal Office of Head Start recently awarded more than $250,000 in federal stimulus funds to Children's Home Society in Walla Walla, to serve about 34 children ages birth to 3 who meet federal poverty guidelines.

Amy Osterman of Children's Home Society said the money will initially go to serving qualifying families in a home-based model of early learning. In home visits, an educator visits with families about 90 minutes each week. The sessions focus on children's development and growth.

Osterman said some of the 34 slots may eventually move to a child care center that is still being determined. Those child-care slots would be similar to the Early Head Start program operating in the Lillie Rice Center.

To qualify for Early Head Start, families must earn 130 percent of the federal poverty limit or lower. The program is also open to foster, homeless and special needs or disabled children. Walla Walla serves 56 children through Early Head Start. About 23 are served at the Lillie Rice Center, with 33 children reached through the home-based model. The new funds will increase the number of children served to 90.

Part of the money has gone to hiring two full-time staff members, and two part-time employees, Osterman said. Additional funds cover supplies, like toys and books, and other resources.

Osterman said qualifying families are identified through referrals from doctors or social services.

In College Place, the Migrant Head Start program, operated by the Washington State Migrant Council, will see an additional eight slots opening up through its federal award.

Migrant Head Start director Yolanda Esquivel said the new openings will switch from services in its chid-care center to the home-based program, depending on parents' work needs. The migrant program, based at the Farm Labor Homes, typically sees a shift from home-based to center-based learning as families return to seasonal work. Their award is also for the Early Head Start program.

Esquivel said that with nearly 30 families on a waiting list for infant care at one time, the additional slots help meet urgent needs.

The local Children's Home Society and Migrant Head Start awards were part of bigger awards received at the state level. Children's Home Society programs in King County, and Migrant Head Start programs in Pasco, Othello, Wapato, Quincy and Royal City also secured funds.

Esquivel noted that the awards are given to maintain programs for two years, but that her agency is hopeful the funds will be renewed in the future.

"We're thinking positive, that this is going to stay," she said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.


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