To attract funding, First Impressions seeks to quantify successes |

To attract funding, First Impressions seeks to quantify successes

Zach Fridell

— First Impressions of Routt County is working to quantify its success in response to tight economic times that have forced stiff competition among nonprofit organizations.

The First Impressions Board of Directors and interested community members updated the group’s goals and discussed strategies for the upcoming year during its annual strategic planning meeting Wednesday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

Steamboat Springs City Council member Jon Quinn and County Commissioners Doug Monger and Nancy Stahoviak also attended as the group discussed ways to create measurable results.

“It’s great for us to take the time out of our busy schedules as a council and look at our vision of what families with children from years birth to 5 years old need to promote healthy development and school readiness,” said Stephanie Howle, early childhood manager for First Impressions. First Impressions is a county-sponsored advocacy organization for early childhood education.

Howle said the group has been working to create measurable results of its work for several years. The significance of doing so is timely, as funding sources for nonprofit organizations are affected by the economy and more deliberate with how they allocate their money.

“With funding sources being strapped for resources, it’s important we can measure our effect and share that with the community and our funders, that we are making a difference in the lives of children,” she said.

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The group also discussed during the daylong conference the need to raise public awareness in the community.

“We get together and do some awesome things, but I think some people haven’t heard about it yet,” said Kathy Gibbs, a psychologist who works with First Impressions. “People see bits and pieces, but they don’t see the broad strokes.”

For example, in a recent effort to encourage residents to become licensed early childhood education providers, First Impressions has begun a recruitment campaign that will provide as much as $750 in reimbursements for program startup fees as well as free mentoring from the Child Care Network.

Another change the group is undergoing is a shift to focus more on students ages birth to 3, instead of the traditional model of working with students in preschool (ages 3 to 5). The change is based on research that indicates education for younger children is more significant to their development than previously thought.

“Educators are saying that we’ve got (the students) in the classroom, and we’re already doing catch-up,” said Hope Cook, a public health nurse.

Cook said many parents are reluctant to work with students on reading or other activities when they are very young because parents don’t think it’s worthwhile, but Cook hopes to change their minds through First Impression activities.

“It’s just in the beginning stages,” she said. “It’s just tweaking and turning people’s perceptions.”