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Press release from The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, shared Dec. 6:

ASHEVILLE — A $65,000 Early Childhood Development Focus Area Grant to the North Carolina Partnership for Children will develop Champions for Children teams among business and community leaders to advocate for public and private funding for early child care and education in Western North Carolina.

The project supports the foundation’s vision of helping every child realize his or her full potential. Specifically, it focuses on the strategy to raise awareness of the importance of investing in early childhood development.

The effort has the potential to affect more than 56,000 children, birth to five, living in the foundation’s 18-county service area. The funding allows NCPC to hire a consultant to work with a community relations coordinator, employed through a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, to expand the Champions for Children effort to 16 Western North Carolina counties. Buncombe and Henderson counties are already participating through the Z. Smith Reynolds funding.

There are 2,000 days between the time a baby is born and when that child shows up for the first day of kindergarten. Children’s earliest experiences literally determine how their brains are wired, lay the groundwork for future health and form the foundation of the social and emotional skills needed for academic and workplace success.

“The region’s prosperity depends on its ability to ensure that all children have the opportunity to develop intellectually, socially and emotionally,” said Tracy Zimmerman, NCPC public engagement director. “Studies show that children who receive high quality early childhood education are more likely to graduate from high school, own a home and have savings.”

Within the foundation’s 18-county region, the rate of poverty for children under six has increased over the past decade, averaging 27 percent, higher than the statewide average of 25 percent. Taking just one county, McDowell, as an example, 39 percent of children live in poverty, up 21 points from 2000. Many of the state’s budget cuts have hit rural areas hard and programs that communities rely on are either in jeopardy or have disappeared in the western part of the state.

Champions for Children works by recruiting business leaders to attend forums and training so that they can present the economic case for investment in early childhood.

“We are not asking volunteers to become early childhood experts,” said Olson Huff, the Black Mountain-based chair of the NCPC board. “We are asking them to make the business case for supporting early childhood education. It makes economic sense and resonates with community leaders who understand the importance of the ‘First 2000 Days’ and are willing to commit time to being a Champion for Children.”

Regional progress can be tracked through a new website www.first2000days.org.  The site includes tools to make it easy for anyone to participate by sharing a story, contacting a legislator and more. The project will also monitor the degree to which policy makers and news outlets from the western region include early childhood issues in their discussions.

In 2011, The Community Foundation adopted a new strategic plan that focuses discretionary resources on people in need, early childhood development, food and farming and preserving natural and cultural resources. Foundation staff leverages knowledge about the region and relationships with donors to enrich lives and communities in Western North Carolina.

The Community Foundation is a nonprofit serving 18 counties in Western North Carolina. The Foundation is a permanent regional resource that facilitates more than $11 million in charitable giving annually. CFWNC inspires philanthropy and mobilizes resources to enrich lives and communities in Western North Carolina. More information can be found at www.cfwnc.org.

Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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