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Even Start program may close

| Wednesday, May 5, 2004

ARNOLD -- The Alle-Kiski Learning Center will have $80,000 yanked from its budget starting July 1, which will all but close the family literacy program known as Even Start.

This year, the Even Start program served 22 families, just shy of the 25-family minimum set by the funding organization, the Westmoreland-Fayette Private Industry Council.

The federal program provides children with free day care while their parents pursue a GED, brush up on math skills or learn better parenting techniques.

It also assesses where children are developmentally, and helps the families learn techniques to help their children learn skills to be ready for school.

If no alternate money comes to the rescue, the program that started in 1999 as the first in Westmoreland County will end, said Mary Jendrey, learning center director. Two full-time workers and one part-time worker likely will be laid off.

"The risk is kids go to school unprepared and the cycle continues," Jendrey said.

The learning center operates on a $250,000 budget. Even with the funding pullout, it expects to continue to stay open for 56 hours each week and continue offering adult education classes, including GED training, Jendrey said.

The learning center started running the project in 2000 with two families and eventually raising it to 22 families. This year, 44 families tried to use the service but only 22 qualified because there are hours requirements and many didn't want to have home visits, which are required by the Private Industry Council.

This is the biggest hardship Jendrey has faced in her 18 years with the learning center. The learning center also won't be getting an additional $37,000 in assorted grants it had received last year.

She and her team will meet next Friday with county commissioners to see if they have any money. Students have written to the commissioners as well.

"We're devastated," Jendrey said. "There has to be program money come to this end of the county."

Private Industry Council President Tim Yurcisin said taking the money away from the learning center was a hard decision.

Growth at the Greensburg and Uniontown Even Start centers made it feasible to reallocate the money, Yurcisin said.

"When we first started working with New Kensington, we started with a goal of 60 (families); then we moved it down to 40 (families)," he said. "But the numbers kept reducing.

"I would hope through some grant research we could help with some dollars to bring a program back to New Kensington. It just seems like every year we are being asked to do more with less money."

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