As federal budget cuts gutted their program, officials running a Colorado Springs early childhood education nonprofit vowed not to "take it sitting down." Seven months later, some Head Start seats lost to sequestration of federal budget dollars are slowly being filled.
The Community Partnership for Child Development's campaign to raise $135,000 recently reached its halfway point - a mark that allowed the organization to open a donor-funded classroom while chipping away at its lengthy waiting list.
As of Wednesday, 386 children remained on the wait list for the nonprofit's programs, which include Head Start, Early Head Start and the Colorado Preschool Program.
It's an uncharacteristically low number because a new round of classes just started.
"We just decided that rather than accepting that as the way things had to be, that we were going to ask the community to invest in CPCD at a higher level than we had in the past," said Noreen Landis-Tyson, the organization's chief executive.
In March, the organization lost about $550,000 in federal grants amid the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, leading the nonprofit to cut 142 Head Start slots and eliminated 25 positions, mostly through attrition, said Becca Bishop, the nonprofit's spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, the organization's Head Start waiting list surged to more than 1,000 people, Landis-Tyson said.
A boost in funding from the Colorado Preschool Program allowed the nonprofit to bring back about 60 of those lost slots, Landis-Tyson said.
After that, the organization began raising its own money via the Fill A Seat Project, which sought has sold 141 chairs painted by children in Head Start classes.
The new donor-funded classroom differs slightly from other Head Start classes. Officials replaced a one of two teaching assistants with volunteers and decided to cater more to children in Manitou Springs and Cheyenne Mountain School District, which lack Head Start classes.
Nonprofit leaders also began using the classroom as a training ground for new Head Start teachers.
The key is sustainability - even if the organization hits its $135,000 goal and opens a second 16-seat classroom, it still has to find money for the classes next year.
"We hope to keep raising enough money each year to keep it open," Bishop said. "We'll see how that goes."
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