Head Start efforts earn Child Focus honors

February 8th, 2007    Author: Rodney Beckwith    Filed Under: News

Child Focus was recently honored on a national level due to their efforts in the Head Start program. The local Head Start program, which is coordinated by Child Focus, was recognized for excellence in child literacy and father involvement efforts with their children.

“We’ve been making both areas, fatherhood and literacy, a big part of our agency for quite some time,” said Berta Velilla, Director of Early Childhood Programs for Child Focus, Inc. “We started our fatherhood initiative and have probably tripled the number of males involved in our program in the last three years. We have a couple of big events. One is a fish-a-thon that happens in the spring at Pattison Park. The park stocks the lake with fish and we have a catch and release fish day, where dads, uncles, grandparents or significant male role models can participate with the Head Start children. We have a big family event, where they can have a good time together. We also distribute books during that event.”

Velilla said that the recognition came as part of a nomination process from the region in which the Clermont Head Start program is located. That region includes the states of Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.

"Head Start programs across the nation are arranged by region," said Velilla. "Each region was asked to identify programs in their area with some exemplary practices in various subjects to present to the national office of Head Start. Our region selected Child Focus as one of the programs because of our practices of involving males and fathers in our program and also because of our literacy practices. We were one of the few programs to be identified at a national level."

The fatherhood program is designed to get fathers involved more positively in their child's life - and at an earlier age. The father is not only encouraged to spend more time simply being with the child, but also to participate in classroom activities and in educational home activities, such as reading. Last year this program helped draw more than 270 males, or 27 percent of the volunteers working with the local Head Start, into classroom and special event activities.

"Another thing we do that's successful is we hold cook-offs with the dads," said Velilla. "We invite them to bring one of their favorite dishes that they cook, and we have a competition to see the most colorful recipe, the most original and other different categories. This is a way to get dads in the kitchen. It's an excuse to get them together and let the kids see their dads doing something positive. All of the recipes are compiled in a cookbook, and the winners are featured. The cookbooks are sold and the money we raise are used to support the event the following year."

"It's for the kids to see their fathers doing something positive and to have the fathers become engaged in the classroom activities," added Velilla.

Likewise, the literacy program acts in a similar fashion, combining book giveaways with special incentives to encourage parents to read with their children as much as possible.

"What we do is focus on book distribution and a reading challenge," said Velilla. "Reading is fundamental, and we gave support to raise money to purchase books for all of our children. We want them to have at least four new books that they can select and take home to encourage a love of reading. Because of the support of the community, we're able to hold four of these distributions, so you're talking nearly 600 children who get four new books every year. That's pretty neat."

In all, sponsors for the book giveaways include: Pizza Hut, Kroger, PNC Bank, Kohl's, Raymond Walters, Borders Book Store and the local library. The giveaways help ensure that the children have at least some new books to get interested in, which then helps the child get started in a reading challenge which creates a competition to encourage parents to read more.

"We identify one week where we challenge families to spend as much time reading as they can together," said Velilla. "We track the number of hours that each family spends reading together with their children and the families that reach the highest number of hours are recognized and given some prizes for their efforts."
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