HED:Putting families first

CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories

AUTHOR: EILEEN

HED:Putting families first

By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

Stacks of materials can be found in every nook and cranny of Cathy Grace’s Madison Street office. Children’s games and educational activities are scattered about the floor in front of her desk.

Grant proposal information and resource books line the shelves of a bookcase. Just outside her Family Resource Center office magazines and books dealing with families litter the tables and bookcases. The smell of freshly lamanated materials blows past clients as they walk through the front door.

All of these things are reflections of how Grace and her work hard to provide opportunities for children and families. And directors of the center said they hope they can find a person who is able to mix administrative skills with a love and understanding of children to follow in Grace’s footsteps .

Grace may be leaving the Family Resource Center for another job, but she won’t be giving up her passion for promoting early childhood education.

Grace, who announced earlier this year she is leaving the center’s director position after six years, will remain the executive director until the last week in August, at which time she will continue working with the Early Childhood Institute at Mississippi State University.

This move leaves the center’s board of directors looking for a replacement to head a center that provides myriad services to Lee County residents. Grace said she hopes the board chooses a director who will be a good listener, organized and an overall communicator.

The new director also will face the challenge of raising funding locally. “This is going to be a key issue,” Grace said. When the program first started it was funded in part by CREATE Foundation, she said. Now, it has been determined that the center and its programs should “stand alone,” Grace said.

Funding from CREATE is being reduced in order to encourage more community partners, Grace said.

As a result, funds will be sought from other sources, including more contributions from the public. “We will have a need for increased funding because we are an independent entity and our services are growing,” Grace said.

The new director also will need to continue to work with the staff to provide the various programs needed to support families. One such program Lee County Families First provides informational programs and educational opportunities for families.

Camille Sloan, president of the Family Resource Center Board of Directors, said Grace created and built the program into what it is today.

“She did it from the ground up,” Sloan said. “I don’t know if we would have gotten to the point it is now without her leadership and abilities.”

Those leadership skills have helped the program to become a model across the state, Sloan said.

“I think it will be very difficult to replace Cathy. I don’t know anyone in the Southeast who has the qualifications, experiences and abilities she does in early childhood education and families,” Sloan said.

Sloan said the Family Resource Center is in a good position in the community and will provide a new director, who will hopefully start Sept. 1, a good start.

Sloan said grant writing and providing services not in her job description were more of Grace’s attributes.

Looking back

The Family Resource Center will be losing the only director it’s had since it opened six years ago. Grace, 50, actually started working in Tupelo a year before the center opened.

Grace said when she moved to Tupelo, one of her first duties was to develop an early childhood program that had several components, including developing a curriculum so children can move from Head Start programs to the public school districts smoothly. This curriculum would give the children in Head Start the same experiences they received in the public schools.

Grace also helped develop a training program that would assist Head Start teachers in preparing children for public schools. And she also helped raise awareness of the importance of families in the success of education for children and in community development.

Before moving to Tupelo, Grace served as the executive director of the Southern Early Childhood Association in Arkansas. She left that position and came to Tupelo in the hopes of developing an early childhood program. From that desire, and with a plan already in motion, the Family Resource Center was made a reality.

The center, which is one of the oldest Family Resource Center and one of 12 in the state, was funded through CREATE Foundation, Stubbs Family Trust, the Phil Hardin Foundation, BellSouth Foundation, Itawamba Community College, Lift/Head Start, Tupelo Public School District, Lee County School District and a one-time grant from United Way of Northeast Mississippi. Through the years, the organization also has partnered with the Department of Human Services, United Way, City of Tupelo, First United Methodist Church, CREATE Foundation, Tupelo Public Schools, East Heights Baptist Church, Tupelo Housing Authority, Salvation Army, civic organizations and Mississippi State Cooperative Extension Service.

“Our services go beyond this location. We go out in the community when invited,” she said. They do this through training and workshops.

Grace said the credit of the success of the center and its programs can be attributed to her staff and the community involvement.

“It (the center) is an accomplishment of the community. This place would not be here if not for all of the people who live here.”