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Rowan United Way adds Smart Start as member agency

SALISBURY — A nonprofit that works with children, pre-natal to age 5, has been admitted as the newest Rowan County United Way member agency.

Smart Start Rowan will receive $39,036 in United Way funds this year to promote reading and dental health programs, after approval by the United Way Admissions Committee headed by Steve Fisher, president of F&M Bank. Smart Start is the first nonprofit to earn United Way status in more than 10 years. It joins 15 other organizations as United Way member agencies.

“A child’s ability to read is the No. 1 indicator of that child’s future success or failure,” said Fisher. “Therefore, it is also the No. 1 indicator of our community’s future success or failure. Smart Start Rowan’s proven track record and burning passion for early childhood development makes them the perfect United Way partner to address one of Rowan County’s biggest needs … helping our children to read.”

Smart Start will expand its current “Reach Out and Read” program to an estimated 3,200 additional pre-school children in Rowan County and set up three dental varnishing clinics for children at elementary schools in the outlying areas of the county, according to Amy Brown, director of Smart Start, and Tim Campbell, planning and evaluation coordinator of Smart Start.

Smart Start, in its proposal to the United Way Admissions Committee, focused on two areas that are goals of both Smart Start and the United Way — improvements in third-grade reading scores and access to dental care for children.

“Last year, after assuming the role of United Way board president, I said that under my tenure we were going to focus on growth in our number of donors and in the services we are providing to the citizens of Rowan County,” said Mike Williams. “Our campaign, under Greg Dunn’s leadership, was very successful. We had an increase in our donors and the number of companies participating, which resulted in us exceeding our campaign goal. This has allowed us to make additional services available to our community through our current 15 member agencies and by bringing Smart Start into the United Way family. We are looking forward to working with Amy and her staff.”

Brown called the United Way affiliation a great thing for Smart Start. Smart Start was started in the early 1990s by the administration of Gov. Jim Hunt and is now in all of the state’s 100 counties. “It exists to ensure that all children are healthy and ready for success when they enter school,” said Brown. Smart Start began work in Rowan County in 1996 and is located at 1329 Jake Alexander Blvd. Phillip Barton, retired director of Rowan Public Library, is chairman of the board of directors.

A study by Duke University four years ago shows that state funding for Smart Start is repaid by the time a child is in third grade, Campbell said. “Smart Start lowers special education placements, which are much more expensive,” he said. “The program also increases test scores to the tune of two to three months of extra instruction.”

The “Reach Out and Read” program places age-appropriate books in the hands of parents who bring their young children to wellness visits at physicians’ offices. The doctors give out the books and relay the importance of reading to young children.

“Parents are four times more likely to read to their children if they receive the books from a physician,” said Campbell.

The books are given to parents and children participating in the “Reach Out and Read” program beginning at the 4-month well child visit.

“We know that the children of families without books will have heard thousands fewer words by the time they start school, compared to families with books,” said Brown.

The United Way funding will allow Smart Start to expand the program so that a variety of books in English and Spanish are distributed at Salisbury Pediatrics Associates, Cleveland Pediatrics, the Rowan County Health Department, Novant-Milestone Family Medical, Salisbury Medical Clinic and Rowan Family Physicians. Currently, the program reaches 4,500 children, but will expand to serve approximately 7,700, Campbell said. Lisa Edwards, a local early intervention specialist, is the “Reach Out and Read” coordinator and early intervention specialist with Smart Start.

The dental clinics, named “Stories and Smiles,” are proposed to begin during the 2015-16 school year at three elementary schools — Morgan, in the eastern part of the county; Woodleaf, in the northwestern part of the county; and North Rowan. The state dental hygienist will have two roles — preventing tooth decay and distributing books, like those provided in the “Reach Out and Read” program. This will meet another Smart Start goal, Brown said, of expanding the reading program to families who may have a difficult time bringing their children to doctors for wellness visits.

The Rowan County United Way was chartered in 1956. Member agencies include the Rowan County Literacy Council, The Arc/Rowan, Rowan Vocational Opportunities, Boy Scouts, Central NC Council; Communities in Schools of Rowan County, Rowan County YMCA, Rowan County Youth Services Bureau, American Red Cross, Rowan County Rescue Squad, The Salvation Army, Trinity Living Center, Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, Meals on Wheels, Families First, Inc., and Family Crisis Council.

For more information, visit the website, www.rowanunitedway.org, or follow the United Way on Facebook.

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