Craig-based nonprofit Connections 4 Kids turns 10 years old | CraigDailyPress.com

Craig-based nonprofit Connections 4 Kids turns 10 years old

Connections 4 Kids Executive Director Betsy Overton, left, and daughter Amanda Arnold gather with Santa Claus during the KRAI Holiday Drive. Connections 4 Kids is celebrating 10 years as the early childhood council of Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

Connections 4 Kids has worked to strengthen resources and services for children, from birth to age 8, and their families, in Northwest Colorado for a decade making the organization older than the children it serves.

"We strive to provide all children and families in both counties with quality early childhood services," said Executive Director Betsy Overton.

Overton and Parent Education Coordinator Trish Snyder are employed by a 17-member board who represent agencies and parents from both counties.

We caught up with Overton to learn more about the 10-year-old organization.

When was Connections4Kids created and why?

The Colorado Department of Education desired to have statewide coverage of early childhood councils to insure they met the needs of young families across the state. They provided funding for our immerging council and Connections 4 Kids was established in 2007. Northwest Colorado Council for Children and Families was the original name and in 2010 the name was changed to Connections 4 Kids. In September of 2014, Connections 4 Kids became a 501c3 organization and went from being a council to becoming a board. Prior to that, Moffat County served as our fiscal agent.

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What is the annual budget, where do resources originate and how are funds spent?

While a large portion of our funding comes from the Office of Early Childhood, we also rely on funding from foundations, fundraisers such as the Cherish the Little Things Art Show, the KRAI Holiday Drive and local donors. The economic state of our local, state and national funding has a direct impact on the services we can provide to our families. Funding is always a challenge for small rural communities. Any additional funding assistance and opportunities enables our abilities to more effectively reach additional families in our community.

Does Connections 4 Kids partner with other organizations/agencies in the area and if so, which ones and how?

Connections 4 Kids partners with multiple local agencies to provide wrap around services to young families in the communities. Collaboration with these agencies is based on individual requirements of our families and the services they need. We partner for support groups, parent education, referrals, resources, self-sufficiency skills and to avoid duplication of services.

Why is it important to focus on children ages 0 to 8 and their families for support?

Connections 4 Kids strives to educate the community on the importance of early identification and intervention, the benefits of proactive versus reactive, families building a strong foundation for their children's success in the future, quality early childhood care and education and the research behind it.

How does Connections 4 Kids help families?

We give families tools and strategies through parent education classes, offer opportunities for family engagement and activities, provide referrals as needed, promote quality early childhood services and education, provide professional development for early childhood providers, provide parent tips and advocate for children in the community.

How many families has the organization served?

In 2016-2017, Connections 4 Kids served 124 families with parent education, 390 with parent engagement activities, 107 families for Christmas 4 Kids which included 224 children, and 293 children with the Cherish the Little Things Art Show. Connections 4 Kids provides books to over 500 children 0 to 5 years of age each month through the partnership of Moffat County Youth United Way and Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

How does Connections 4 Kids work with early childhood educators?

We partner and provide professional development support for Colorado Shines, and classroom materials with all private and public schools as well as home child care providers.

Which schools and agencies are partners?

Overton: We partner with Moffat County School District, Eagle's Nest Preschool, Calvary Baptist School and Shared School.

What challenges do families and children face in our community?

Poverty, self-sufficiency, drug and alcohol abuse, toxic stress, blended families, lack of mental health services and resources for high needs children, lack of foster care availability in our community, child abuse and neglect.

What could the community do to further support children and their families?

More mental health services, recruit and retain resources for high needs children, community awareness and action regarding the drug problem and the effect it has on our young children, understand the importance of a solid, safe, healthy foundation for all children.

What goals does the organization have for the next 10 years?

Continue and expand our Parent Education Center, educate the community and provide resources, work to eliminate child abuse and neglect in the community, provide support and tools for early childhood providers in the community, work to obtain more resources for high needs children, offer training for toxic stress, increase mental health services for young children. Seek additional funding to be able to reach these goals.

What else would you like readers to know about Connections 4 Kids?

Connections 4 Kids provides information for children's health fairs and the Children's Festival, advocates for the prevention of child abuse through their Pinwheel Program, oversees the donations and distributes toys for the Christmas 4 Kids program, provide the community with over 1,000 calendars per year for the school year, and advocate for children at the state level. Through our Parent Education Center we offer Positive Solutions for Families, Bright by Three, Ready for Kindergarten and Cooking Matters classes as well as Family Nights in the communities. All of our classes are grant funded and free of charge to the families. Free childcare is also provided.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com

Top 10 achievements in 10 years

1. Became an Early Childhood Council in 2007.

2. Changed name to Connections 4 Kids in 2010.

3. Established Cherish the Little Things Art Show in 2011.

4. Started the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program in 2012 in partnership with Moffat County Youth United Way for both Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

5. Granted 501c3 designation in September 2014.

6. Acquired the Christmas 4 Kids program from Amber Kawcak in December 2015.

7. Established the Connections 4 Kids Parent Education Center in January 2016.

8. Hired Trish Snyder as the Parent Education Coordinator for Connections 4 Kids.

9. Implemented and trained providers in the Colorado Shines Quality Improvement System in 2016.

10. Partnered with community agencies to bring 2017 Northwest Colorado Rural Philanthropy Days to Moffat County.