Oil City’s CDC Gets $40 Million Grant to Run Head Start Program in Erie

| June 12, 2019

ERIE, Pa. – Child Development Centers, Inc. (CDC) has obtained a five-year, $40 million grant to operate the federal Head Start program in the city of Erie.

CDC secured the $7.9 million-a-year award from the Administration for Children & Families, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, after submitting the successful proposal in a competitive application process.

With the grant – CDC’s largest ever – the non-profit organization celebrating its 50-year anniversary this year will serve 680 children and be the lone provider of federal Head Start services in the city of Erie for at least a five-year period starting July 1.

Head Start is the federal government’s preschool program for children from economically disadvantaged households. A family’s income must be at or below the federal poverty level – currently $25,750 for a family of four – for children to enroll in Head Start, which is intended to prepare children for a successful transition to kindergarten and elementary school.

CDC already serves about 400 Head Start children in Venango and Crawford counties after acquiring a five-year, $19 million grant in the summer of 2016. In addition, CDC serves 40 children through the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program and 40 children through the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Program.

“We are extremely excited to be able to expand our services to the city of Erie and provide high-quality early childhood education to an area in great need,” said CDC Executive Director Rina Irwin, who is a native of Erie and a graduate of Strong Vincent High School.

CDC continually looks for opportunities to expand its early childhood learning programs and services, and when the government opened the Head Start grant application process for Erie, the organization jumped on the opportunity, according to Irwin, who has been CDC’s chief executive for more than 20 years.

CDC anticipates opening five different sites for classrooms in Erie, including both the east and west sides of the city. The specific locations of those classrooms have yet to be determined. More information will be released as it becomes available.

Coupled with CDC’s current population, the addition of 680 Head Start children would increase the organization’s total enrollment beyond 1,700, according to Irwin, who said CDC will work closely with federal Head Start representatives for the next several months as it prepares to launch Head Start in Erie on Sept. 9.

CDC is making it a priority to continue serving all eligible children and families who participated in the Head Start program with the previous grantee. Irwin said the organization is eager to welcome those families in Erie so CDC can begin building relationships with them and helping their children’s preschool experience continue to thrive.

Any children or families who live in the outlying communities are encouraged to reach out to a service provider in their area for information on their Pre-K Counts programs as CDC will be specifically serving children in the city limits where the need is the greatest.

CDC plans to have 36 total classrooms in the city with a capacity of 15 to 20 children per room. In order to staff those locations, the organization will be looking to hire about 170 new employees.

Former employees of the previous grantee are welcome to apply to any of the open positions at CDC, and they can do so by visiting www.cdcenters.org/employment. Some job opportunities will include teaching staff, food service workers, administrative/support staff, bus drivers, and more.

The addition of Erie to its service area will not affect CDC’s operations in Venango or Crawford counties, Irwin said. CDC will continue to provide child care and early childhood learning opportunities for hundreds of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and elementary school-age children at its 10 other centers across those two counties.

In its grant application, CDC cited in great detail its qualifications to assume responsibility for the Head Start program in Erie, Irwin said, including:

Its history of providing child care and early childhood education since 1969, mostly in Venango

  • CDC’s well-credentialed, experienced staff, currently about 210 employees including 22 teachers and other staff members with associate’s degrees, 70 with bachelor’s degrees and seven with master’s degrees. Additionally, 39 employees have a child development associate (CDA) credential, with 29 others seeking this designation, which is indicative of advanced skills in nurturing and teaching children. About half of CDC employees have between five and 26 years of service with the organization, Irwin said.
  • Its track record of successfully managing grant funding -including several multi-million-dollar awards – from the county, state and federal governments and local and regional charitable trusts and foundations. “CDC has an excellent reputation among grant-making organizations as a trustworthy destination for grant funding,” Irwin said.
  • The high marks it has earned from organizations that measure educational quality, including Star 4 ratings from Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS educational quality improvement initiative and accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Nine of CDC’s existing centers in Venango and Crawford counties have Star 4 designations – the highest that Keystone STARS gives – and four centers are NAEYC accredited.

Possession of Star 4 ratings and NAEYC accreditation places CDC in select company, as fewer than three percent of Pennsylvania’s 8,500 regulated child care providers have achieved both of these
marks of excellence.

With its application, CDC also submitted letters of support from individuals and organizations including local, state and federal elected officials, and local educators, social service providers, grantors, lenders, health care professionals and vendors, Irwin said.

“We tried to effectively display our qualifications to convince the government that we have the capability of taking on another Head Start grant and we succeeded in that,” Irwin said.

For Irwin and other long-term employees of CDC, acquisition of this latest Head Start grant continues the organization’s remarkable transformation from near bankruptcy in the late 1990s into the thriving enterprise that it is today. In addition to providing child care and early childhood education for thousands of boys and girls in local communities – some of whom have grown up and now are returning to CDC with their own children – it now is one of Venango County’s top 11 employers.

“CDC has come a long way over the course of the last 50 years,” Irwin said. “This is an exciting step in our organization’s history and we can’t wait to see what kind of a difference we can make in the lives of children in Erie.”

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