$1.2 million to United Counseling Service's Bennington County Head Start program

Will benefit 48 infants and toddlers in Bennington County

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BENNINGTON — In an effort to expand education services to children, a $1.2 million grant has been awarded to United Counseling Service.

It was announced by Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch that the Early Head Start Child Care Partnership grant would broaden high-quality learning opportunities for 48 vulnerable infants and toddlers in Bennington County, according to a statement released Monday.

The grant was made available from the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

Funds will support comprehensive child care to low-income infants, toddlers and their families to prepare the children for transition into Head Start and preschool. Betsy Rathbun-Gunn, director of childhood services for UCS said there are 32 new slots and 16 enhanced.

The congressional dignitaries wrote in the announcement: "There has never been a more important time to invest in our children and in our families. Head Start was designed to help break the cycle of poverty, and Vermonters know that Head Start and Early Head Start are truly changing lives. This award to Bennington County United Counseling Service will help build regional partnerships to expand opportunities for some of our most at-risk children. As Republicans in Washington call for drastic cuts to anti-poverty programs, this award is a needed reminder of the importance of these efforts."

Sanders visited Mount Anthony Union High School on Friday and took the time to welcome UCS staff and the grant, said Rathbun-Gunn.

"It was something I knew [Sanders] knew was desperately needed in Bennington," Rathbun-Gunn said. "It was highly competitive. We were two out of all of New England. There were 40 grants we were competing for and limited dollars. We're very pleased we were selected for the competitive funding."

She added that this was a third try to access the grant.

The new program allows for high quality child care for working families, child care workforce knowledge and the opportunity to help improve school readiness of low-income children. Rathbun-Gunn added that they hope to expand into another center, Oak Hill Children's Center in Pownal.

Unlike other organizations, funds come directly from Washington, D.C. to Bennington, Rathbun-Gunn said. There's no state involvement. Additionally, the expansion will create 12 to 16 job positions.

"We're one of the last community-based programs that is a direct federal-local funding source," she said. "It allows us to have access to the money and put it right to work in our community. This is right from federal to local funding sources. This is a big economic development piece too."

Without the Early Head Start program, children birth to age 5 are being cared for otherwise — family members, friends, etc. With this expansion, that demographic will be cared for, as well as the family members.

"We want to make centers one stop for working families," she said. "We're also working with partners to enhance the quality of infant toddler care."

Parents/guardians get advice on getting back into the workforce, on how to be a parent and care for children and more.

Bennington County Head Start serves Bennington, Pownal and Manchester with "early education classes promoting school readiness and family opportunities to strengthen families," according to the UCS website. It's available to children ages 3 to 5 and for families that meet federal income guidelines. The program is 5-STARS recognized for high-quality early childhood education by the Vermont Agency of Human Services.

"We are pleased we will be able to offer Early Head Start to children in our community," Lorna Mattern, executive director of UCS said in a release. "When children attend high-quality programs they are better prepared for school and have improved outcomes."

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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