PINEDALE – Early childhood development was identified by the Pinedale Lions Club as a local project that would greatly benefit from the club’s financial assistance. Following a decision in 2016 to support the Redstone Early Active Learning (REAL) Center, the Lions Club decided to extend their support by offering each of the four early childhood centers in Pinedale a $1,000 donation.
In 2016, the Lions Club received a request for funds from REAL Center Director Julie Belton to support some local families who were unable to pay the weekly fee of $60 to allow their children to attend her three-day, full-service childcare and preschool center. Belton explained to club members that as she was not registered as a nonprofit, she was very restricted in her ability to raise funds to assist in early childhood development.
“We cater to the parent working non-traditional hours,” said director Belton. “We have children who are dropped off as early as 5:45 a.m. and others who cannot pick up their children until 7 p.m. We even come in at weekends if a parent needs a child to be in a safe environment. ”
After receiving funds from the Pinedale Lions Club, Belton was able to get matching funds from her husband’s business, ReBel Auto Parts. The money raised meant that eight local families were able to send their youngsters, with a small contribution of their own, to attend a 30-week program.
At the February Lions Club meeting this year, Becky Gregory, from the Children’s Learning Center (CLC) in Pinedale, requested financial assistance for their newly adopted program, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Project.
The Imagination Library project is a nationwide program promoting early childhood literacy by providing free age-appropriate books for all children from birth to age 5. Gregory explained to the club that the “CLC works with children in this age group through developmental screenings, early intervention services and preschool, so it was a great tie in for early literacy and childhood development.”
Although the books are provided free of charge, there was a mailing cost of approximately $2.10 per child per book to be met. Gregory estimated that there are around 150 Sublette County children currently receiving a free monthly book from the Imagination Library – and any parent wanting to participate in the program can register their child online at imaginationlibrary.com. Gregory’s goal is to expand the local program to reach 200 under 5-year-old local children and will need to raise $5,000 this year.
Both Belton and Gregory are advocates of early childhood education as a means to reduce social spending at the state level as a child ages and develops through their teenage years. Wyoming statistics indicate for every $1 invested in quality early childhood programs, $7 is saved later on.
The third recipient of a $1,000 donation was Children’s Discovery Center (CDC). Director Caitlin Hakiel focuses her emphasis at CDC on creating an educational experience every day for her students.
Hakiel, who, when the Lions Club called, was at White Pine Ski Resort with a group of 4-year-olds participating in the “Learn to Ski” program, a program that started in 2011. After going up to White Pine every week for six weeks, Hakiel was excited to report 12 of the children rode the lift to the top of the mountain and skied down Bonneville – a blue run for intermediate skiers. At the recent Flamingo Cup at White Pine, Hakiel watched many of the race participants who had been through the CDC Learn to Ski program. Hakiel currently has 42 students attending CDC and advised that the Lions Club donation will be used to support the $1,666 monthly food program. Children are fed breakfast, lunch and a snack, five days a week.
The donation to Pinedale Preschool (PP) came “as a complete surprise” for director Jennifer Zook. Since receiving the check from the Pinedale Lions Club, Zook has met with her board to discuss and brainstorm how PP might best use the donation. Options include a developing a garden – PP has the space but did not have the funding – or offer a scholarship for families who cannot meet their fees set at $162 for two half-days per week. At PP, Zook says the focus is on the “whole child” so they offer a wide range of activities at their South Maybell Avenue location, as well as field trips to PAC for swimming, weekly trips to Wyoming Athletic Development for yoga, and the Sublette Center for “Art with Seniors.” PP also places a strong emphasis on fitness and owns cross-country skis and ice skates suitable for preschoolers.
Pinedale Lions Club is a local service organization that raises the majority of its funds through the annual snowmobile raffle, which raises approximately $10,000 each year. The club uses the funds to provide financial support for a number of local and national activities, including visual and diabetes testing programs, medical transportation, Pinedale Half Marathon, high school scholarships, Rocky Mountain Eye Bank, Leader Dogs for the Blind and international disaster relief programs.
President Randy Belton has challenged the club to support the Lions Club International Centennial Challenge “by doing what we do best – serving others,” and extends an invitation to the community to contact the Lions if there is a local project where the Lions could help out.