In addition to being the true harbinger of fall, October brings with it a wide variety of callings. Among other things, October is fire safety month, domestic violence month, pastor appreciation month and disability awareness month - all noble causes.
But put in simplistic terms, most folks may view the calendar's 10th month as colorful foliage, increased heating bills and Halloween trick or treaters.
Included among the many banners worn by October is the Pennsylvania Promise for Children campaign designating the month as Pennsylvania's Promise for Children Month. The intent is to provide an opportunity to recognize the importance of quality early learning opportunities for young children and celebrate the families, teachers and leaders that help our youngsters reach their promise every day.
Cathy Weibley, early childhood coordinator at the Lycoming County?United Way, helped lead an effort to provide funding to early child care programs throughout the county to assist in their success.
"(It) seems these days there has been a lot of talk about natural resources in our area," said Scott N. Lowery, executive director of the Lycoming County United Way. "In reality, there is no greater natural resource than our children. We all, collectively and individually, need to do all that we can to ensure that these preschool treasures are given every opportunity to get off to a good start in life.
"This year our campaign theme is 'Live United,' which stresses the importance of all of us working together to help one another. A few years back our theme was 'Investing in Our Community, One Person At a Time.' At Lycoming County United Way we are trying to do just that. That philosophy led our board of directors to take the lead allowing us to serve as the county's Early Childhood Education Coordinator, when the opportunity arose in 2007. Since that time, thanks to grant funding provided, initially led by Jen Bolich and now Cathy Weibley, we are working with educators and early childcare providers to make early education programs available and successful."
Existing research indicates the first five years of a child's life shapes their future performance in school and in the workforce. Simple things like talking to, reading and playing with children during their early years helps stimulate the proper brain development to build the necessary reading, math and social skills preparing them to enter kindergarten ready to learn.
"When families are looking for early learning programs for their children, like child care, Head Start or preschool, they should find out what the quality of that particular program is," explained Weibley, who coordinates the countywide Early Childhood Education program from her local United Way office.
"The parents should ask questions. Do the teachers have specialized training to work with young children? Do they have a variety of activities that are age appropriate? Do they spend time with families to share the child's successes and ways to help them with challenges? Is the child care program participating in Keystone STARS? These are all very important questions parents need to ask before they entrust their child care with anyone," Weibley said.
Lycoming County United Way administers the Early Child Care and Education program through a $50,000 grant proved by the state. Weibley leads efforts through the support of a volunteer Community Engagement Group comprised of child care providers and educators throughout Lycoming County.
"When our United Way changed our funding process to impact-based three years ago, our intent was to concentrate our efforts on the key identified community needs. Education is the engine that drives the train.
"We are proud to be able to lend some administrative support to early child education initiatives.
"The support we can give to today's preschoolers will pay dividends to the community as a whole many years down the road," Lowery said.