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Programs

Early Childhood Connections


In 2008, the residents of Calhoun County were surveyed about their hopes and dreams for their children. The result of that survey was the creation of Early Childhood Connections, giving support to children from birth to age four with welcome baby baskets, family coaches, toddler play groups and much more.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Early Childhood Connections Coordinator Mark Barkley: The promise of long-term funding. Other programs are typically funded for two, three or maybe five years. Just as things get going, they’re gone. Finally, foundations have understood that they need to commit to long-term funding to see measurable results. We are also unique in that our services are not income-based. Every baby born in Battle Creek receives a welcome basket that includes items such as a developmental wheel, a board book, and a community resource guide, as well as practical items like a quilt, detergent, diapers and baby wipes.
 
We wanted them to envision their children’s success, and we are letting parents decide and tell us what they need from us.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?

Early Childhood Connections was the direct result of a survey done in 2008 asking families, “What are your hopes and dreams for your child?” We wanted them to envision their children’s success, and we are letting parents decide and tell us what they need from us. Families have been so interested in our program! So the lesson would be, when you’re responsive to the community, they will partake.
 
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
We weren’t prepared for how huge the community response would be, and couldn’t hire staff fast enough! Also, we learned that there is a transportation barrier for many families that was preventing them from participating in our events. However, we were able to allot part of our budget for cab service, so that any family who wants to attend any event can call a cab free of charge. Fortunately, we have the flexibility to be able to make those kinds of adjustments as we go.
 
What really differentiates this program?
Again, I would mention our flexibility. We have a lot of leeway with our staffing; for example, we can hire someone who is bilingual in English and Burmese, which fills a community need, rather than being bound to hiring someone because they hold a certain degree. Also, because we have three different major sources of funding, it’s much easier to be responsive more quickly. Recently, we started getting calls from the hospitals about new parents needing car seats. I contacted our funders and we were able to establish emergency funding to fill this gap.
...our family coaches have made such great connections that when families are invited to an event, they know it will be valuable, and we get great attendance.
 
What are the keys to success for your program?
I think that engagement is key. In addition to the community feedback that shapes our services, our family coaches have made such great connections that when families are invited to an event, they know it will be valuable, and we get great attendance.
 
What are the plans for this program once the Kellogg funding runs out?
Although we are on a one-year funding cycle, we do have a long-term commitment for the program. We could not have anticipated the enormous response! Being on a shorter cycle enables us to regroup and grow more easily. However, Kellogg would like us to shift to a three- or five-year cycle down the road. We’re such a new concept; right now we’re taking things one step at a time. 
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