OberlinKids makes programs affordable, accessible

By Laurie Hamame - lhamame@aimmediamidwest.com

There are only 19,000 days between the birth of a child and kindergarten.

Staff at OberlinKids are working to increase affordability and accessibility so every child can grow and develop from a toddler to an elementary student, they said at the nonprofit’s annual meeting on Sept. 22.

The event marks the organization’s third year, and the center now provides tuition scholarships to families for preschool half-day programs to ensure children have the opportunity to attend at least one year of high-quality preschool prior to entering kindergarten.

Funds will be allocated to those demonstrating the most need — those with low income, children who have not attended preschool programming, and children entering kindergarten in 2018.

Coordinator Jenn Keathley said it’s critical for children to build on their skills from the day they’re born. Parents are, and always will be, their child’s first and most important teachers.

“We believe parents deserve to have the latest information on what they can do to promote healthy development and growth in their child,” she said.

The “On Track for Kindergarten” program model was flipped from focusing on the child to focusing on the whole family. This puts the child in the center and wraps the family around the child, Keathley said.

“It helps guardians advocate for and engage with the child in a healthy and positive manner, so they enter kindergarten ready to learn,” she said.

Areas the organization has enhanced this year include curriculum and the registration process.

By simplifying the registration system, Keathley hopes more families will be drawn to the services OberlinKids provides, such as play groups, developmental screenings, case management, and peer support.

Of the children who received free vision, hearing, speech, dental, and developmental screenings, 230 referrals came as a result. Only 10 kids were already receiving services.

The highest referral — 82 percent — was to social services. Early childhood mental health was the second greatest, followed by food, housing, child care, immunizations, and dental work.

The center has developed four impact teams — health, early childhood education, promotion and outreach, and curriculum — to help deliver a higher, more detailed level of care for families.

“The more we know about what the needs of the families are, the greater impact we can have on the overall system,” Keathley said. Her goal is to have annual screenings for every child.

Results have consistently shown low scores in fine motor skills.

“Their thumbs and pointer fingers are strong,” Keathley said, tapping an imaginary cell phone. “But when it comes to fine motor tasks, it’s really difficult for them. Children need to work with their hands. They need to be able to create, to manipulate objects, and build. Building is such a huge factor in how a child learns perspective and balance.”

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

By Laurie Hamame