By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Hill County is one of six counties nationwide selected to receive a grant to help fund early childhood development programs.
The $7,500 grant was awarded last week at the National Association of Counties annual conference in Milwaukee, Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said.
According to a press release from NACo, the Counties Investing in Early Childhood Development and School Readiness Grant "provides funding that helps county programs improve their early care and education coordination."
Kaercher said Hill County "has always made early childhood development a priority."
"We are excited to receive this grant as we know it will help many families in Hill County," he said.
Cindy Smith, director of nursing for Hill County, was responsible for writing the grant application, which was submitted in May.
"It was kind of exciting to receive it," she said."It's pretty small but it will help us do some assessment things."
The money will be used to perform day-care visits and assess the needs of low-income families, Smith said.
Some of the issues the department would like to assess are the cost of health care, where families go to receive medical attention, and whether children receive necessary vaccinations and have regular doctor visits. It also wants to examine mental health and youth risk factors, Smith said.
"How do we bring these things to parenting?" she asked. "We need families to tell us what their needs are and also let people know what programs are out there."
The grant application was one of many the Health Department has written, Smith added. A change in the funding structure has led the Hill County Health Department to seek federal grant dollars for a number of programs, she said.
"We're kind of switching from state and local sources to the federal level," she said.
Federal grants have become the lifeblood of many smaller health departments across the country as state and local funding have been slashed amid a budget crisis, Smith said.
"Statewide services are being cut and the counties are stretched thin," she said.
Federal programs offer a vast resource of money and assistance, Smith said.
"There is a lot out there," she said. "It comes down to timing and having the staff available to write the grants."
Hill County Health Department employees have attended a number of grant-writing workshops, she said, adding that the application for the NACo grant was solid.
"We had a good grant proposal," she said. "There's not enough services to meet the needs of the families."
Kaercher said being awarded the grant is an indication of Smith's resolve to obtain alternative sources of funding.
"It's certainly a feather in her cap," he said.
NACo awarded six of the grants during the convention, totaling $42,200. Other recipients were counties in Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, Idaho and California.
In a press release, immediate past NACo president Kenneth Mayfield, a county commissioner in Dallas County, Texas, lauded Smith and her colleauges.
"Hill County's Health Department deserves to be especially recognized for its tremendous work," he said "With the support of the grant, we expect to build the capacity of county programs, as well as county leaders, seeking to enhance early childhood development and school readiness efforts."