Sterling is on track to get its long-awaited Head Start program in January.
After years of discussion and planning, the pieces are coming together. Last week, an advisory committee organized. This week, the committee is choosing a site for the preschool and advertising to hire a director.
Committee members plan to open the doors of Sterling's first Head Start after the New Year's holiday.
"People have been talking about it for at least 10 years, said Grace Merkes, a Sterling resident who serves on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and has been spearheading the organizational effort. "We don't really have any day cares in Sterling."
Head Start, a federally funded preschool program, serves low-income children ages 3 to 5 and their families. It offers early social and learning activities to prepare children for success in primary school and helps parents access health, dental and nutritional resources for their children. It stresses parental involvement and community partnerships.
"We try to work with the whole family," Merkes explained.
"Once we get established in Sterling, we are going to have a parent committee," she said. "The parent committee is kind of the core of the program, to tell the staff what they want to see in the program."
The program should generate about eight jobs for the Sterling community and present a partnership opportunity for anyone interested in opening a licensed day-care center there, she said.
The existing Head Start program in the central peninsula is the Kenaitze Cuya Qyut'anen Head Start in Kenai, sponsored by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. Homer and Seward also have Head Start programs.
The Sterling program will be sponsored by the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP), a private, statewide, nonprofit corporation that promotes quality of life improvements for low-income Alaskans. RurAL CAP's Child Development Division will handle funding arrangements and oversee the Sterling program's operation. It also sponsors the Head Start programs in Homer and Seward.
The funding to launch the Sterling program has been approved, Merkes said, but details have not been finalized.
Funding will come from the federal Department of Health and Human Services' Head Start Bureau, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and from the community, including in-kind donations and volunteer work contributions.
Shirley Pittz, director of RurAL CAP's Child Development Division, confirmed that the organization is just waiting for the final award letter from the federal agency.
"We know it's funded," she said. "We're just not sure to what level."
The Sterling Head Start advisory committee plans to hire a director by the end of the month and to hold a communitywide meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 9 at Sterling Elementary School.
Merkes said she and others working on the program are eager to finish the paper work and open the doors for the preschool.
"We are tired of sitting around waiting," she said.
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