At any given time, about 60 infants and toddlers with special needs will receive direct benefits from the more than $33,000 raised during this summer’s Invest in Kids Campaign at Sunflower Diversified Services. But there is still a long way to go, said Jim Johnson, Sunflower executive director.
Sixty children are usually enrolled in the non-profit agency’s Early Education Center, which was eliminated from Barton County’s budget this year. Sunflower started Invest in Kids in an attempt to recoup the more than $54,000 loss.
In the meantime, county commissioners approved $25,000 in its 2012 budget for the early ed center.
The Damon Foundation in Great Bend kick started the fundraising effort with a $10,000 donation. It recently added another $5,000 when the campaign raised $15,000 from other sources.
The total now stands at $33,254 and the original goal was $60,000.
"We will continue to inform the community about the importance of this campaign," Johnson said. "We cannot make significant cuts in programs for infants and toddlers because we are required by law to provide them."
To illustrate the early ed center’s effectiveness, Johnson noted that one in three children who transitioned out of the program in the first six months of this year had reached their developmental levels. The national average is one in five.
"This means they will need no further special services as they move into public school," Johnson stressed. "Many thousands of tax dollars will be saved in the future because these children will not need Sunflower’s services when they reach adulthood."
Most early-intervention expenses are linked to staff members who work directly with children and their families on a daily basis. To maintain the required services, Sunflower either needs to have other sources of revenue or make substantial cuts that would adversely affect programs for the adults Sunflower serves.
A few repercussions of the county budget cut are: two early education para-professional positions are unfilled; a number of agency-wide repairs to facilities have been put on hold; worn-out equipment is not being replaced; and most travel has been cut.
Anyone who would like to donate to the cause is encouraged to call Sunflower, 620-792-1321, or contact any Invest in Kids committee member. They are Chairperson Julie Spray, Kathi Armatys, Megan Murphy, Kyle Roberts, Kenny Vink, Kim Vink, Joanne Wondra, Jane Isern, Meghan Parsons, Jenni Gordy, Connie Oetken and Glennda Drescher.
"We appreciate each of these committee members who have worked so hard to raise money to support infants and toddlers," Johnson said. "They clearly recognize the importance of early intervention for children with developmental delays or disabilities."
The non-profit agency provides services to children and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties.