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Fundraiser temporarily eases budget shortfall

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Carol Daly, executive director of Georgetown County First Steps, won’t have to spread bad cheer this Christmas.

“As a result of the Nov. 30 fund-raiser, we were able to hold off writing those god-awful Christmas letters telling parents and telling providers they no longer have scholarships,” she said.

Last month, the nonprofit appealed to the community for money at the first Georgetown County Early Childhood Education forum. First Steps had lost $200,000 through state budget cuts and couldn’t fund its 2010 scholarships.

In response, a fund-raising dinner at Capt. Dave’s Dockside raised $24,000, enough money to fund First Steps scholarships until Jan. 31.

Now Daly is working on getting scholarship money for February.

“We hope to come up with another $24,000,” she said.

A committee met this week to discuss options.

“They’re going to set up some face-to-face meetings with lawmakers to see if they can free up some money for this program,” Daly said. “It’s only $200,000.”

By supporting early childhood education, Daly said First Steps can reduce the need for remediation for disadvantaged children who have trouble keeping up with their peers in public schools.

“If you consider the number of children who are being prepared for school, the cost doesn’t seem like it should be such a barrier,” she said.

Committee members, including Daly, are making calls and scheduling meetings before and after the holidays.

“With the holiday season, it makes it a little difficult to meet people,” she said. “We want to get this started in January.”

They are also pursuing federal grants and holding more fund-raisers.

“I think we also need to take a look at the needs of families in Georgetown County, especially with teen moms,” Daly said.

Sometimes teen moms qualify for the Center of Excellence program, but they also qualify for the state Department of Social Services’ ABC child care. They make the mistake of putting their parents’ income on applications rather than their own, Daly said.

When DSS processes them, the mothers appear to be able to afford other child care options.

“Right now we’re talking about going to DSS and asking for stimulus money,” she said. “The good news is that DSS did in fact get stimulus money that needs to be used for early childhood education. The bad news is that it has a lot of strings attached.”

Providing information about child-support rights is another option.

“A lot of times the older parents don’t want that person around for some reasons so they are circumspect about enforcing that court-ordered support. But, if there aren’t valid reasons, they should get the support,” she said.

If more parents took the initiative to get their child support, Daly believes they could pay for their children’s First Steps tuition.

“Of course there are dads who are nowhere to be found, or the mom, for safety reasons or because of the associations the dad has, may be afraid of him,” she said.

In those cases, First Steps scholarships are valuable resources.

Parents who want to take advantage of that gift will have to wait until funding returns. There are 21 available scholarship slots without money.

“We’ve got availability now, but no way to pay providers,” Daly said. “What we would normally do is put in another needy child from our 130-person waiting list. We’re not doing that."

To sponsor a child at a Center of Excellence, mail tax-deductible contributions to Georgetown County First Steps, P.O. Box 531, Georgetown, SC 29442 or stop by the First Steps office in the Beck Administration Building at 2018 Church St. in Georgetown.

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