Barbara West, Connections 4 Kids coordinator, stands by a poster in her office Thursday morning that describes her organization’s vision and mission. The organization is designed to strengthen resources and services in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties that help young children and their families.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Barbara West, Connections 4 Kids coordinator, stands by a poster in her office Thursday morning that describes her organization’s vision and mission. The organization is designed to strengthen resources and services in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties that help young children and their families.

Local organization focused on bolstering services for young children

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At a glance …

• Connections 4 Kids, a local early childhood council, serves Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

• Organization focused on children 8 and younger, and their families.

• The agency is designed to strengthen existing services and resources for young children.

• Current projects include Cavity Free at Three — designed to promote dental health for pregnant women and young children — and a scholarship program for childcare providers.

Barbara West won’t see the 3-year-old who gets an oral checkup.

Nor will West, coordinator for the Connections 4 Kids nonprofit group, see children under the watchful eye of a childcare provider who’s continuing his or her education.

But, West and the organization she oversees can improve the lives of these children, albeit indirectly and with less fanfare.

“We don’t work directly with the kids,” West said. “We work with the system.”

Connections 4 Kids, an early childhood council serving Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, is designed to help meet the needs of children 8 and younger, and their families. The council’s work is centered on four areas: health, early learning, social, emotional and mental health, and family support and parent education.

A variety of stakeholders sit on the organization’s board, including local physicians, teachers, parents and local nonprofit representatives, Connections 4 Kids board chairwoman Corrie Ponikvar said.

The organization was launched several years ago under the name of the Northwest Colorado Council for Children and Families.

But, it’s been within the last year that Connections 4 Kids has been able to launch projects and publicize the word about existing services available the agency tries to enhance, West said.

The organization’s mission is to strengthen the system that provides resources and services to young children, West said.

If a program needs money to provide or expand services, Connections 4 Kids can write a grant to help fund it, West said.

The organization supports several projects, including Cavity-Free at Three, a program designed to promote dental health for pregnant women and children 3 and younger.

“People think that you don’t take your kid to the dentist until they’re 5 or 6,” West said. But, by then, “They can have a mouth full of cavities.”

The council also funds “quality improvement for childcare environments” and tuition scholarships for childcare providers looking to further their education, West said.

The scholarship offers providers in the field as much as $600 per semester for up to two semesters during the year.

The scholarship is intended to help providers learn about early childhood issues “so when children are in their care, they’re not just being babysat,” West said. “They’re actually in a rich environment that’s nurturing and safe and meets the early childhood needs.”

The organization’s ultimate goal, though, is to help prepare children for success later in life.

Statistics show there’s a correlation between early childhood intervention and things like graduation rates and prison inmate populations, West said.

“It’s all directly related,” she said. “The place to start is at birth, not when they’ve already experienced adverse situations in their life.”

And, in the big picture, healthier children and families lead to a healthier society, West said.

Ponikvar agreed.

“When children are successful, your community is successful,” she said.

Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1793 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com.

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