Smart Beginnings to expand improving early learning, family support with Harvest grant

LEFT TO RIGHT: Dru Ingram, chairman of the United Way of Henry County-Martinsville Board of Directors, Tracy Hinchcliff, chairwoman of the Smart Beginnings Martinsville Henry Board of Directors, Melanie McLarty, director of Smart Beginnings, Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation, and Philip Wenkstern, executive director of United Way

MARTINSVILLE – Smart Beginnings Martinsville Henry is expanding its Promising Neighborhoods program with a two-year grant of $268,368 from The Harvest Foundation.

Promising Neighborhoods is a collaborative, two-generation approach piloted with a Harvest grant in 2016. The program will take on two additional communities bringing the total to four, which include the Patrick Henry Elementary School area, the area surrounding Campbell Court Elementary School, the area surrounding Albert Harris Elementary School, and the Sanville Elementary School area. 

“As a community, it is important that our children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn and that their parents be equipped with the work and life skills needed to earn the wages needed to ensure stability for their families,” said Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation. “Smart Beginnings’ two-generational approach is focused on these goals and is showing positive results in moving vulnerable families forward while also strengthening our early learning systems.”

The two-generational support plans created by participating families focus on enrolling children in quality child care programs, family support activities for both parents and children, and connecting parents to education, employment and career coaching. According to the grant application, family navigators found that families experienced the most barriers to meeting their goals in the area of education and employment during the pilot program.

“This grant from The Harvest Foundation will allow us to expand our unique two-generation school readiness initiative in more communities,” said Melanie McLarty, director of Smart Beginnings. “Our focus will be to ensure that more children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn and that parents are equipped with skills and relationships necessary to improve their financial stability.”

In the expansion of Promising Neighborhoods, the role of family navigator will expand to include more intense coaching for parents of children served to best meet their needs. Parents also will be connected to financial literacy training, workforce development services, resources to assist with pressing problems such as Virginia Legal Aid, and access to “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World” training, which will address intergenerational poverty and how to move forward to sustainability.

The program’s pilot, serving the Albert Harris and Sanville communities, was successful with 90 percent of child care centers in the targeted communities moving up at least one quality level in Virginia’s Quality Rating and Improvement System for child care and early learning programs. In addition, PALS-Pre-K scores, a school readiness assessment, increased by 21 percent, and five parents from the 14 families served obtained a job and are working. 

This grant aligns with The Harvest Foundation’s workforce goal in its strategic plan by improving early learning environments and providing support for individuals to enter the workforce. 

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