Millions in grants available for early learning

Published 9:31 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Educators from several Black Belt counties came together Wednesday to learn about $4.4 million available in federal grants for early childhood education.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Office of Head Start organized the meeting. Other partners are the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Blackbelt Community Foundation and Grantmakers for Southern Progress of the Neighborhood Funders Group.

Head Start Rep. Shawna Pinckney said the federal government has grants available to expand programs for children from birth to age 5 in Dallas, Choctaw, Marengo and Wilcox counties.

“We’re in Selma today to talk about $4.4 million dollars of federal investment we’re making for early childhood services in this community. The money will be available soon,” Pinckney said.

Pinckney told educators how to apply for grants and what qualifications are needed. She said she hopes those who attended Wednesday will have a better chance of being awarded funding, and several programs in the Black Belt have earned grants over the years.

“We rely on community-based organizations to be the one to provide critical comprehensive services. We can’t do it alone,” Pinckney said.

Black Belt Community Foundation President Felecia Lucky said her organization serves 12 counties throughout the region.

Lucky said there is a great need to expand early childhood education across the Black Belt.

“We realize this is a huge need and opportunity for our region to help the children. We know that children learn early. So, we need to work at better preparing them. Most federal grants are intimidating so I think it’s important people understand how to apply,” Lucky said.

Tonya Chestnut is the division chair for Concordia College Alabama’s Division of Education. The department offers bachelor’s and associate’s degrees in early childhood and preschool education.

“I came to get some information concerning the opportunities for increasing collaborations and involvement with educating preschool children,” Chestnut said.

Concordia students partner with local school systems and also work different preschool programs. Chestnut said the college is interested in applying for one of the grants.

“I want to find out what the requirements are. We see it as a great fit for our program because we actually train and prepare early childhood teachers,” Chestnut said. “Our main focus is to provide quality education for the children. This way we can provide more support. We want to make a difference in the community.”

Grant application deadlines have not been set and Head Start wants to hear from the community before establishing guidelines, according to Pinckney.

More information can be found online at www.acf.hhs.gov and www.grants.gov.