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Stimulus funding gives local nonprofit helpers some help

Seventy-two slots for children from low-income families and 13 new jobs will be added to Southern Oregon's Head Start and Early Head Start next year as the result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to local Head Start officials.

The majority — 54 of the spaces — were created with $635,890 in stimulus money and will be in Grants Pass' first Early Head Start Center next April. The center will provide free-of-charge or discounted prenatal advice and care and educational activities for infants and toddlers who are from low-income families. The center also will create 13 new staff positions. A location for the new center has not yet been selected.

"There are only 80 kids in Early Head Start in Josephine and Jackson counties, so this is going to be a great help," said Nancy Nordyke, Southern Oregon Head Start director.

The other 18 spaces, funded with $155,607 from the stimulus, will expand Head Start Foothills Center, 2722 Springbrook Road, Medford. Those 18 places already have been claimed by families on a waiting list.

About 50 families were waiting for slots, Nordyke said.

Since 1995 when Early Head Start began, the Southern Oregon Child and Family Council has been trying to start a center in Grants Pass, said Blair Johnson, director of Southern Oregon Early Head Start.

The 80 people in the Early Head Start program in Jackson and Josephine counties go to three centers located at 2600 Merriman Road, Medford, 553 E. River St., Cave Junction, and 891 Stewart Ave., Medford.

Those three centers serve only a fraction of the families who are eligible for the program, Blair said. Children from families with income at 130 percent of the poverty level or less are eligible. An income of $26,065 is 130 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four.

"The numbers of people who are eligible are creeping up constantly due to the high unemployment rate we're having," Blair said.

Early Head Start is able to serve only about 3 percent of eligible children in the United States, she said.

"We really focus on relationships between the infant and toddler and between the staff and the families," Blair said.

Early Head Start provides transportation to clients who need it and have a variety of programs for clients' specific needs, including in-home educational activities for parents and vision and hearing screenings for children.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

Toddlers Brooklyn Hall, left, and April Nelson chase bubbles created by teacher Tracy Smith during an Early Head Start program recess in Central Point. Funding from the U.S. stimulus bill will allow 72 new children to join Head Start and Early Head Start next year, according to local officials. The money also will create 13 new jobs. - Bob Pennell