Kids First model for new program | AspenTimes.com

Kids First model for new program

Janet Urquhart

The Aspen Valley Community Foundation hopes to put kids first throughout the greater Roaring Fork Valley with a new initiative aimed at boosting preschool programs.

The foundation has proposed a partnership with Kids First, a city of Aspen department that supports nonprofit childcare providers in Pitkin County and provides financial help to families who have kids in childcare. Its goal is duplicating Aspen’s successful program in the mid- and lower valley, according to Ellen Freedman, foundation executive director.

Although Kids First, funded by a city sales tax, would remain a separate operation spending its dollars in Pitkin County, the partnership would create a regional program that offers the same services and financial assistance that Kids First does. Its reach will extend as far as Parachute.

Aspen City Council members informally endorsed the idea this week.

“I think this is tremendously exciting,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“It just makes so much sense,” agreed Shirley Ritter, Kids First director.

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The foundation has been working for two years on the formation of the Early Childhood Education Initiative and has committed to raising $250,000 annually for five years to start the program, according to Freedman. It will be reviewed and evaluated after the first three years.

The foundation has already been contributing $30,000 to $45,000 a year in grants to nonprofit childcare providers from Aspen to Parachute but saw the need to expand its efforts, according to Freedman.

“We said to ourselves, we need to be doing more because this is such a critical issue,” she said.

Given the ability of preschool programs to increase a youngster’s readiness for school – in terms of social, emotional and cognitive development – the initiative’s goal is to enhance those programs and make them available to more children.

The foundation found a working role model for its initiative in Kids First, which has long been doing exactly that, Freedman noted.

“A lot of our goals match what Kids First is doing,” she said.

The foundation looked for a downvalley organization to be its partner in the effort but found none that made as much sense as Kids First, Freedman added.

The initiative will involve hiring the equivalent of 2.5 staffers, who will be city of Aspen employees, but who will be paid through the foundation, not the city. They will likely work out of Glenwood Springs.

Initiative goals include boosting the grants that go to nonprofit early childhood programs from Aspen to Parachute; providing financial aid that will help more midvalley and downvalley families put their children in the programs; and providing training/mentoring and other assistance to providers.

Part of the initiative staff’s charge will be coming up with sustainable funding to keep it going beyond the foundation’s five-year commitment, Freedman said.

Foundation representatives will next approach Glenwood Springs and Garfield and Eagle counties in hopes of support from those communities, she said.

Kids First would receive up to $10,000 in the first year of the initiative for oversight but would put the $3,200 Pitkin County receives from the Colorado Office of Resource and Referral Agencies toward an initiative staffer who will take on the data collection, recordkeeping and reporting that Kids First currently handles. That way, the city agency and the initiative won’t be duplicating services, Ritter said.

Aspen may have some minimal overhead costs associated with being the employer of the initiative staffers, but that sum has not yet been nailed down, Ritter added.

The foundation’s goal is to have the initiative up and running in June, according to Freedman.

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