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Empty Stocking Fund

Joshua Martinez’s life was “completely upside down” two years ago. His wife had died, leaving him as sole caregiver for their 1-year-old son, and though he had received an associate degree in culinary arts, medical problems kept him from working. He could not find the social services he needed.

Then one day, he was driving behind a bus that had an advertisement for a child program.

“I didn’t know what it was, but it felt like a ray of sunshine was shining on it, like a cliche,” Martinez said.

He called the number and was introduced to the Community Partnership for Child Development, which administers Head Start and other programs for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Yes, they took 1-year-olds, and yes, he qualified under income and other guidelines. Soon his son, Joshua Jr., was off to an enrichment program five days a week, seven hours a day.

The CPCD mission is to promote healthy families and school readiness and support parents, said Marty Kemmer-Contreras, community relations director.

CPCD was founded in 1987 to manage the Head Start program in El Paso County. It started with 300 children and now has 1,800 students in 60 classrooms. The children are chosen according to federal poverty guidelines and other criteria. While the federal government funds 75 percent of the effort, CPCD must raise 25 percent of costs locally.

Head Start is CPCD’s largest program, providing educational, physical and behavioral health and nutritional services for children ages 3 to 5. CPCD also runs the Colorado Preschool program, providing similar services in six school districts.

And its Early Head Start Program serves pregnant women and children from birth to age 3, promoting healthy family life and school readiness.

“Our job is to prepare children for success in life and school,” Kemmer-Contreras said.

Children living in poverty need early education because many fall as much as 18 months behind in school readiness, she said. Childhood education experts say these children often have wide vocabulary gaps, partly because their stressed parents work several jobs, which precludes a lot of talk time with their children.

But children in poverty who get early education are more likely to finish high school and attend college, Kemmer-Contreras said.

Parental engagement is an important part of the CPCD programs. Some volunteer in classrooms, are bus monitors or help in the office, all of which can help build job resumes.

Martinez said his son’s first day in the program “was more scary for me than him. He is what I have left of my previous life that my wife and I had worked so hard to build, a house, kids, the American dream.”

Joshua Jr. now attends the preschool four days a week, four hours per day. “He is a different child. He was shy. Now he is extremely social and sparks conversation with people,” Martinez said. “And he has learned so much. He is smart as a whip.”

Martinez and his son are living with his parents. He plans to go back to college to study business.

His world is upright again, he said. “My son is my inspiration to build a better life. I can’t put into words what everyone at Head Start has done for us.”

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