YMCA to oversee Frederick Co. Head Start

Local YMCA leaders Monday announced they are taking the reins of a Head Start program in limbo since Frederick County relinquished control of it last year.

The Frederick County organization landed a one-year federal grant of almost $2.2 million to run the program that prepares young children from low-income families for school. On Monday, YMCA leaders said they believe the money will enable them to run at least 16 Head Start classes and serve about 282 local children. That would represent an expansion of the program, which currently includes 262 children, according to a representative of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.

“There’s no doubt the need has been identified in the community for the Head Start program,” said Chris Colville, the chief executive officer of the county’s YMCA.

“If the YMCA is in a position to … provide these services, that’s something we’re going to take on with a lot of pride and excitement and enthusiasm.”

Early last year, county commissioners decided to turn over control of Head Start to the federal government, a controversial move made necessary by economic uncertainty and budgetary limitations, officials argued. If not for this decision, Frederick County in fiscal 2012 would have contributed an estimated $2.3 million to the program, which would have received a combined total of $4.5 million of support from the federal and local governments, according to a news release.

Since March 2011, a Denver-based federal contractor has manned the program during the search for a permanent operator.

Commissioners President Blaine Young said he is pleased to hear the YMCA will be managing Head Start. While he acknowledges that the program has had hiccups in the past year, he said he believes releasing Head Start to the federal government was the right decision.

“My personal hope is that five or 10 years from now, when people look back, they’ll understand the decisions the commissioners made, and under the YMCA, Head Start will be an award-winning program,” he said.

His goal is to continue offering county buildings and buses to the program by forging agreements with the nonprofit.

YMCA staff submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in October and learned last week that it was successful. The funding period runs from May 1 through April 30, 2013, and Colville said she hopes a five-year agreement will follow the initial one-year grant.

The YMCA must match the federal funding with $541,000 of support, which can include in-kind services and money raised through other grants, said Jan Hall, the organization’s grants director.

Already, the Community Foundation of Frederick County has offered the YMCA more than $24,000 of support for program startup costs. Betsy Day, foundation president, said she has watched recent changes to Head Start with concern and is glad to see the program is falling into the hands of the YMCA.

“They’re the largest child care provider in Frederick County,” she said. “While Head Start is not child care, they (YMCA staff) are familiar with working with children and families.”

Colville and others at the YMCA are working on a number of community partnerships to smooth the transition from the current program operator, Community Development Institute. She said the YMCA will openly advertise all Head Start positions in hopes that current CDI employees will apply for the posts.

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