When the Raymond and Viola Wagner family learned that Barton County Commissioners eliminated this year’s funding for the Early Education Center, they knew they wanted to do something. And they have done that something in a big way.
The family has donated $20,000 to the Invest in Kids Campaign for the EEC, 1312 Patton, which Sunflower Diversified Services owns and operates. Other family members include Dale and Marta, and Larry and Charlotte; they are Raymond and Viola’s sons and daughters-in-law. The family is originally from the Otis area.
"We have been impressed by the crucial services provided at Sunflower’s early ed center," Dale Wagner said. "Evidence shows that early intervention alleviates concerns and can even overcome them. These services must continue for the sake of the little ones with delays and disabilities, and their families.
"It would be great if our donation and those made by others would remind people that Sunflower is the only place in this area that provides these vital programs," Dale added. "We encourage others to consider helping in any way they can."
Jim Johnson, Sunflower executive director, said he and everyone else at the non-profit agency were overwhelmed with the news of this donation.
"Our appreciation is heartfelt," Johnson said. "It is gratifying to know that the Wagner family recognizes the value of early education, and that they chose our programs as a priority."
The Invest in Kids campaign began a few months ago. With the addition of the Wagner money, the campaign has raised $54,862.50, which is a little more than Barton County eliminated in its 2011 budget. The goal is $60,000; a relatively small portion will be used for need-based scholarships at another Sunflower entity – Incredible Years Preschool.
"We can almost take a breath now," Johnson said about the fundraising effort. "But we still have a ways to go and the need will never end. Infants and toddlers must always be able to count on the generosity of central Kansans."
The Damon Foundation of Great Bend got the campaign-ball rolling with a donation of $10,000. It donated another $5,000 when Sunflower raised $15,000 from other sources.
"This demonstrates that donations of every size have an effect," Johnson said. "Everyone who has contributed any amount should be commended."
Sunflower is supported by state and local tax dollars but private donations have always filled many financial gaps. It should be noted, Johnson said, that Barton County recently budgeted $25,000 for the EEC for next year – about half what it had provided earlier.
Anyone who would like to donate to Invest in Kids is encouraged to contact Connie Oetken, Sunflower’s director of development, by calling 620-792-1325.
Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults with disabilities in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties.