Rowan County's Partners in Learning (PIL) Child Development & Family Resource Center marks its 15th anniversary on October 6 and its director Norma Honeycutt says the non-profit has much to celebrate.
From serving less than 50 children the first year it opened, PIL has grown to serve more than 300 children a week. In its 15 years of existence, Honeycutt believes a total of more than 5,000 children and their families have been served by her organization that she terms "an extended family."
"One of my primary goals when I joined Partners in Learning in 1998 was to reach more children with special needs, more lower income families, and children in foster care," she explains. "Today, we're a one-stop shop for families with children with special needs. For these families, we not only provide child care or community-based rehabilitative services, but we also provide parenting education, counseling and case management."
From three original buildings located on the edge of the Catawba College campus, PIL added a fourth building in 2008, called The Lion's Den in a nod to funding provided by Food Lion, Inc. But perhaps most significant to its mission, the work of PIL has grown beyond the confines of its space. Four years ago, Honeycutt says, the Child Development part of PIL began offering community-based rehabilitative services in the homes of special needs children. Even Honeycutt makes some of these visits. She blogs about her experiences(www.Partnersinblogging.blogspot.com) and shares videos of the progress her young clients and their families make so others can learn.
"If there's something new that will benefit the children of Rowan County, we're going to do it," Honeycutt says. Members of her staff laugh and share that Honeycutt has chickens on her mind at present — a portable coop to be exact that will provide eggs for PIL and lessons about chickens and eggs to the children who frequent this place.
But chickens are just among the latest of Honeycutt's ideas. Others that have been successfully implemented include several small gardens on the PIL site, a music garden, a wellness program for the children, staff and their families, and even a service program through which the families of the children spend one hour a month volunteering at PIL.
"Her ideas usually work out," Cindy Webb, PIL's Inclusion Director quips.
"Yes, everyone who could walk put something in the dirt for the gardens this year," adds Deborah Howell, PIL's Assistant Director, with a smile.
"And the children saw things growing and tried different vegetables," notes Honeycutt, recalling the PIL gardens. "With the service program, it's all about getting the families involved and making relationships. We have almost 100% participation from our families — they clean gutters and plant flowers. They have created our website and our Facebook page. They will do just about anything.
"My staff doesn't come here for the pay, they come because they feel like part of the family," Honeycutt continues. "I wanted Partners in Learning to be an employer of choice. We're all about service – serving the families and our children."
Home visits made by PIL staffers to the homes of new enrollees are also something Honeycutt started and these have been successful. The visits provide staff members with new insights that assist in their service to the children.
Honeycutt says she is always looking at ways to diversify the funding that PIL receives. Eighty-five percent of the funding comes from childcare funds that families pay, while 15% comes from community-based service fees, grants and donations. What families are able to pay has changed in recent years due to the economic downturn.
"Ninety-five percent of our children are subsidized. Three years ago, 54% were subsidized," Honeycutt notes. "That's the economy, but we've been very, very blessed. Many families who have children, who have come to Partners and aged out, continue to be very supportive of us through gifts in kind and donations."
She wishes more people in Rowan County knew what resources are available through PIL. "Many don't even know where we're located -- that we're tucked back here behind the campus of Catawba and early intervention is so important. If we see a social problem in Rowan County, we're going to find a way to meet that need."
Educators also benefit from Honeycutt and her staff's innovations. Thousands of early childhood educators have come through PIL in the past 15 years to observe best practices. Many of Catawba College's students majoring in early childhood education have found PIL a perfect place for experiential learning.
Honeycutt, who serves on the N.C. Childcare Commission, says PIL will celebrate its 15th anniversary throughout the month of October. While a formal celebration with speaker, Dr. Deb Cassidy, director of the N.C. Division of Child Development, is slated for Thursday, Oct. 6 in Peeler Crystal Lounge on the Catawba campus, other activities are planned later in the month on Saturday, October 29. Activities that day include a Yard and Craft Sale scheduled between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the PIL site, a Special Olympics for Young Athletes ages 2-8 between 1 and 3 p.m. the Catawba College football field; a Fall Family Fest between 3 and 5 p.m. on the PIL site; and a Prediction Run and Kid's Fun Run for the whole family beginning at 5:30 p.m. on the Catawba College Belk track.
For more information about PIL, visit their website at www.epartnersinlearning.org.
PHOTOS: Partners in Learning: 15 Years Serving Children and Their Families
Partners in Learning
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