Two Columbia County programs will reap the benefits from a $500,000 state grant that the city of Harlem was recently awarded.
The Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, awarded Aug. 22, will pay to construct a building that will house both the county's Head Start and Family Connection programs.
"It is going to allow us to double the Head Start program from 20 to 40 kids and allow (Family Connection executive director) Julie (Miller) to have office space and classroom space and everything that she needs to make Family Connection to continue to grow," Mayor Scott Dean said.
Head Start houses five employees, offices and a classroom in a small building across from the Department of Public Safety in downtown Harlem. The program provides a class for 4-year-olds, including breakfast, lunch and a snack, educational opportunities, medical care and dental care for children and therapies for special needs, mental health and behavioral services, said Ernestine Smith, the director of the CSRA Head Start program, which oversees Columbia County's program.
The current location "is efficient," Smith said, "but the layout is not as effective as it could be. We're using what we have."
Smith said the move would allow more room and the ability to add a second class for 3-year-olds. The extra space would allow Head Start to more easily provide family services and transportation of lunch meals from Thomson.
The county's Family Connection, working out of a few rooms in Harlem's courthouse annex building, has grown drastically in the past few years to include three full-time staffers and a part-time employee. The staff will soon grow by three AmeriCorps members through a new partnership with Hands on Georgia, said Miller.
Miller said she hopes the agency will have plenty of room. The preliminary building plans call for office, classroom and meeting space for both agencies and shared conference areas and restrooms.
"For us that would be wonderful because we just don't (have a lot of room) right now," Miller said. "We feel fortunate in the space we have. The best thing about it is we want to have a computer lab area, where kids can come in and do work, they can come in and do their homework in the afternoons. We'll have a building where it is available to the young people whenever they need it."
The city applied for the Community Development Block Grant in April. The first grant the city received three years ago is paying for a sewer rehabilitation project on the southside of town.
"We are thrilled and excited to get this grant (administered through) the Department of Community Affairs, there's no doubt about it,' Dean said.
The Community Development Block Grant usually requires 20 percent matched funds, equaling $100,000, Dean said. He hopes some of the funds will come from the county government. The cost of any land purchased will go toward the required matching funds.
"We're going to have to be working on that match," Dean said. "(They are) not just Harlem programs. (They are) county-wide programs that just happen to be located in Harlem.''
No time line for the project has been established.
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