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Damon Family Foundation helps replace axed funding for children
Karen Perry-Hayes helps Gavin Gilkison with his speech/language skills during a Sunflower Early Education Center home visit. Sunflower has started its Invest in Kids fundraising campaign to benefit its EEC and Incredible Years Preschool. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

When a local charitable foundation learned that Barton County funding for children with developmental delays had been eliminated, it not only wanted to donate but also encourage others to do so.

Don Damon, founder of the Damon Family Foundation, said the organization donated $10,000 to Sunflower Diversified Services for its Early Education Center. This was the lead gift in the new Invest in Kids Campaign.

"We have also pledged a challenge gift of an additional $5,000 if Sunflower raises $15,000 from other donors," Damon said. "All of us understand early education is critical for infants and toddlers with delays. And Sunflower’s early ed center has a wonderful reputation for serving the needs of children and families. We hope the community will show its support and generosity."

The campaign goal is $60,000, said Sunflower Executive Director Jim Johnson. The Barton County Commission eliminated this year’s infant/toddler funding of more than $54,000; the other $6,000 would be used for scholarships for youngsters in Sunflower’s Incredible Years Preschool.

Sunflower had been considering a separate fundraising campaign for the preschool scholarships. However, Johnson noted, the non-profit agency decided to combine these two urgent needs into a single campaign to meet the needs of young children.

"All of us are so grateful to the Damon Family Foundation for its generous lead gift, as well as its challenge gift," Johnson added. "We also greatly appreciate everyone else who has contributed so far. All donors can be assured that every penny we raise will help local children.

"Our gratitude is especially heartfelt because times are tight and we are asking people to dig deep for ‘one more cause,’" Johnson said. "They know we wouldn’t ask if it weren’t so important. We anticipate commissioners will restore funding next year, but we need to ensure that critical services are not compromised this year. Most people we have contacted understand this is an unusual situation and they just want children to get what they need."

Early intervention for ages birth to 3 has been proven critical to the development of children with delays, Johnson noted.

"The opportunity for each child to maximize potential lies in the balance and we have to secure every possible resource to make that happen," the executive director noted.

The Incredible Years Preschool curriculum is designed for any child, ages 2-and-a-half to 5. It also provides specialized services for children with learning delays, behavioral concerns or language development needs.

Last year, 32 of the 48 preschool children were considered at risk of future delays.

"This is why we have the special services in addition to our high-quality preschool curriculum," Johnson said.

The Invest in Kids Campaign will continue for about four months.

"We always accept donations for children but the formal campaign will be time limited," Johnson said. "The county will set its 2012 budget this summer and by August we will know the level of support we can expect for the coming year."

The campaign steering committee is Chairman Julie Spray, Kim Vink, Kathi Armatys, Megan Murphy, Jane Isern, Jenni Gordy, Meghan Parsons, Joanne Wondra, Kenny Vink and Kyle Roberts. Those wanting to donate may contact a committee member or call 620-792-1325.