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First Steps: Funding cuts put kids in jeopardy
By Sarah L. Smith
Unless Georgetown County First Steps receives financial assistance, it could lose funding for 230 students when a state Department of Social Services grant expires at the end of the month.
“It’s not a secret that these are austere economic times,” said Carol Daly, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Unless you’ve crawled out from under a rock, everyone knows what the state dollars are like.”
A $200,000 state funding cut to the early childhood education provider’s budget last fall forced Daly to cut seven staff positions and 21 out of 130 scholarships. This year it is operating six centers of excellence on $170,000.
About 15 children lost scholarships at the Pawleys Island Childcare Center, said Lillian Reid, the executive director of the First Steps center of excellence. The center also furloughed employees one week this summer.
“This is the first time that we can say that we have really felt the full effect of the economy,” she said.
Since school let out for the summer, the number of children at the center dropped from about 40 to 20. The summertime drop in numbers is unusual, according to Reid. Usually the center serves at least 60 or more children during the vacation season.
“But without assistance, parents just can’t afford the cost of child care,” Reid said.
When First Steps lost the $200,000, they were also in danger of losing their Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation funding match. The Bunnelle Foundation invited community business, school and political leaders to brainstorm ways to help the nonprofit.
Out of the brainstorming session, a steering committee formed to address joint grant applications and fundraisers First Steps could hold with other local nonprofits in order to strengthen its chances of raising money.
Days later, the Cliff and Carolyn Ellis Foundation held a dinner and auction at Capt. Dave’s Dockside. The event raised $24,000 for First Steps scholarships.
Daly is looking for similar assistance.
“We’re looking at the Cliff and Carolyn Ellis Foundation to hold another fundraiser for us,” she said.
Her office is applying for grants and hoping they’ll receive federal funding.
They’re also turning to the Bunnelle Foundation for financial assistance.
“We are hoping that they will look at us again,” Daly said, although she recognized that not having the matching dollars could present a problem.
However, her greatest fear is to see children who would benefit from First Steps locked out of the program due to money issues.
First Steps Centers of Excellence not only provide child care, but they also help prepare children for school, Daly said. Since the centers started four years ago, not one First Steps child needed remediation or special education classes after entering kindergarten.
“This program has saved quite a bit of money in the long run,” Daly said. “You hate to see that erased because it’s a case of pay me now or pay me later.”