01/14/07 — Partnership director gives farewell speech

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Partnership director gives farewell speech

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 14, 2007 10:37 AM

Smart Start programs are thriving, but funding them is still a challenge, said the outgoing executive director of a group charged with improving the futures of children in North Carolina.

Karen Ponder, who helped develop the Smart Start initiative at the state and community levels, spoke Thursday at the board meeting of the Partnership for Children of Wayne County. She is the outgoing executive director the North Carolina Partnership for Children and the Smart Start initiative.

Mrs. Ponder announced her retirement six months ago and has been circling the state sharing her farewell thoughts.

She said she feels confident in where Smart Start is headed and applauded the efforts she has seen in Wayne County.

While programs and services are doing well, funding is always a concern, she said. New funding was received last year and the governor has put Smart Start on his budget for the first time, prompting Mrs. Ponder's belief that "we're on the track to receive full funding."

Even at full funding, though, she said Smart Start is only projected to pay 25 percent of the full need for all little children.

"There's still many unmet needs for children that are (4 years old) but also those just born until they start to school," she said. "It's not the moon we're asking for; it's a reasonable amount."

Mrs. Ponder said there are still about 200,000 children in the state not being served and encouraged her audience to continue to push for financial support.

Statewide, she said Smart Start currently reached 52 percent of its goal, which equates to half the children being served well and the other half still in need of additional services.

The influx of families into communities includes some who don't speak English and need additional support to be ready to enter the school system, she said.

"There are also special needs and other things straining our budgets," she said.

Legislators have been helpful in securing funds and their continuing support should be sought, Mrs. Ponder said. She encouraged her audience to continue working in Goldsboro and Wayne County, as well as the state level.