• 68°

STEPS gets $2.7 million, funds will expand Head Start programs

Farmville-based STEPS Inc. is set to receive $2.7 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support Early Head Start programs across Southside Virginia.

According to a press release from U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner’s office, the $2.66 million will support STEP’s existing Head Start education program, “and allow for the creation of an Early Head Start program for the first time in the region. Early Head Start programs provide high-quality educational services for income-eligible children of up to three years of age.”

STEPS will now be able to serve 233 Head Start children in Amelia, Appomattox, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Prince Edward and Nottoway counties. STEPS will also be able to expand Early Head Start to serve an additional 48 children in Amelia, Charlotte and Prince Edward counties.

“In addition, this grant will allow new services to be provided for 15 expectant mothers to facilitate prenatal and postpartum care, and to provide home visits and health and nutrition references, which will ensure their children are healthy and primed for success from an early age,” Warner’s staff said in the release.

Jessica Lehman, who serves as STEPS’ Head Start/Early Head Start director, said Head Start is a free program for low-income families with the goal of early intervention and school readiness.

“STEPS took over the Head start program in October of last year,” Lehman said.

The Early Head Start program serves infants and toddlers 6 weeks to 36 months old. Head Start serves preschoolers between the ages of 3-5.

“They really are looking for quality early childhood educators, and so there is an opportunity for us to expand in looking for teachers who are qualified to work with infants and toddlers,” Lehman said. “We have 70 Head Start staff.”

She anticipates about 12 new full-time jobs with the expansion of the Early Head Start program.

“STEPS continues to work diligently to ensure that the Head Start services provided to our communities are quality ones that assist in moving lives forward,” STEPS President and CEO Sharon Harrup said. “We started on our Head Start journey last year and learned quite a great deal. We are excited that this year — our first full year of implementation — will be one on which we can truly put the STEPS mark of quality.”

She said the grant will allow STEPS to upgrade, not only the services it provides but the physical locations where services are delivered.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner

“I commend the STEPS Board of Directors for their vision to expand STEPS so that our region can once again provide children and families living in our communities the quality, impactful services they deserve and those that we as taxpayers are supporting,” Harrup said.

“This federal funding will help provide a foundation for young children to be better prepared for the challenges they will face in school and in life,” Warner said in his office’s press release. “We know early learning is one of the best predictors of educational outcomes, and these funds will play a key role in helping kids from disadvantaged backgrounds reach higher and close the achievement gap.”

STEPS has Head Start locations in Buckingham, Cumberland, Farmville, Charlotte Court House and Victoria.