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Contributions provide gifts to brighten Head Start families' Christmas

SALT LAKE CITY — "Santa" made some early deliveries to Salt Lake CAP Head Start in recent days.

Operation Chimney Drop, made possible through generous contributions of businesses, individuals and faith organizations, provided holiday gifts to hundreds of needy families served by the early childhood education program that offers health, education and self-sufficiency services for children and families in poverty in Salt Lake and Tooele counties.

On Monday, toys and other gifts were distributed to hundreds of Head Start children and families.

The program, says Salt Lake CAP chief development officer Joni Clark, enables families to focus on their family goals "without the worry of how to provide their children with a Christmas they can't afford."

Late last week, Salt Lake CAP Head Start learned it had been awarded a renewable $1.1 million grant Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership grant. The grant will be used to expand high-quality early learning opportunities for vulnerable infants and toddlers.

The grantees were announced at last week's White House Summit on Early Education.

"This grant will empower Salt Lake CAP Head Start to build on long-standing community relationships and work with local child care providers to address the desperate need for high-quality care for infants and toddlers in Salt Lake," said CEO Erin Trenbeath-Murray.

National Head Start Association Executive Director Yasmina Vinci said the new federal investments in local partnerships "are an exciting step forward in our national commitment to ensuring every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, is given the opportunity to succeed."

Locally, Head Start's goal is to prepare the 2,300 children it serves each year to start kindergarten socially, academically and physically prepared.

Head Start caseworkers work with families to set goals, refer them to services they need and encourage parental involvement in their children's lives.

Clark said Salt Lake Head Start has an existing Early Head Start program that serves about 80 children through Horizonte Instruction and Training Center in the Salt Lake City School District. The program also works with chronically homeless families.

When applying for the grant, Head Start contacted a number of licensed child care centers run by Salt Lake County and in the vicinity of the University of Utah to determine their interest in these partnerships. Now that it received the grant, the agency will be circling back to the providers to proceed with willing partners, Clark said. A partnership with a child care center in St. George is also planned.

Head Start will use the funds to expand its staff to provide technical assistance to licensed child care providers who will be trained to use Early Head Start's high-quality strategies and evaluation system.

Families who have been unable to access Early Head Start through its existing programs will be able to benefit from programs offered at child care centers participating in the partnerships.

"The brain does about 85 percent of its development between the ages of 0 and 5. We're very excited that we're going to be able to expand this program working with children early on their cognitive development and motor skills," Clark said.