By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The Down East Partnership for Children (DEPC) embarked on a mission 20 years ago: “launching every child as a healthy, lifelong learner by the end of third grade.”
Today, DEPC is fulfilling its mission every day, through wise stewardship of its resources. The nonprofit organization serving Edgecombe and Nash Counties received the 2013 Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award from the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits.
“To get the recognition of your peers as a good steward of your resources is a great honor,” said Henrietta Zalkind, executive director of DEPC.
As Zalkind says, those resources are both financial and human, and reaching its current status as a model for other nonprofits has “clearly been a team effort” for DEPC. The nonprofit has a team of 34 staff members, numerous volunteers and a board of directors.
Jane Kendall, president of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, said DEPC was chosen for the award because it offers “a model of a nonprofit that converts a potentially devastating challenge into an opportunity to strengthen its organization and its impact. It shows how nimble and strategic nonprofits are when they focus on commitment to their mission.”
DEPC lost $1.5 million when the state’s General Assembly cut funding for SmartStart and More at Four in 2011,
“Being so heavily dependent on those two programs made us so vulnerable. So Henrietta, her staff and our board have been tirelessly building relationships with private foundations, like Z Smith Reynolds, Kellogg and PNC Bank, as well as raising funds from local donors,” said Eric Evans, assistant chair of DEPC’s board of directors and assistant county manager for Edgecombe County. “This has lessened the blow in cuts in Smart Start and NC Pre-K, and allows us to continue to meet our mission.”
In the face of the budget cuts, members of DEPC’s board of directors also stepped up efforts to advocate and fundraise, leading to the signing of a “Pledge to Protect NC Children” by more than 2,000 people.
“I was encouraged to see so many people within our region came forth to say that when it comes time to make the hard decisions about cutting programs, investments in families and children should not be one of them,” Evans said. “It also says that they believe in the work that DEPC has been building on for 20 years.”
The playgroups that meet once a week at DEPC are examples of the nonprofit’s mission in action. Zalkind said the playgroups build “social and emotional support” for children who otherwise might not have access to that type of interaction with other children.
“Our goal is high-quality environments for all children,” Zalkind said.
Pattie Davis, playgroup leader, said she does an assessment of each child that participates in a 10-week session, and usually sees improvements in the children’s social skills after only one session.
“You can tell at the beginning some of them are a little shy. Even at the end of the day, they’re interacting. They’re not clinging to mom,” Davis said. “A lot of these children don’t go to daycare and don’t have other children to play with…It’s very important for them to interact with other children.”
Candice Green of Spring Hope watched her 2-year-old daughter Nola Green play “tea party” with 3-year-old Lauren Renck, of Rocky Mount, Tuesday morning during playgroup.
“She gets to play with other kids her age. She’s pretty shy, so this is helping her break out of her shell a little bit,” Green said.
Green said her daughter has learned multiple developmental skills in the playgroups – “learning how to share, communication…learning how to sit and listen.”
Monica Weeks of Rocky Mount supervised her 2-year-old daughter Charlotte as she created artwork Tuesday morning.
“It’s definitely helped her in social interaction with kids and listening skills and projects like this, helping with her fine motor skills,” said Weeks, of the playgroups.
Lakeesha Joyner of Rocky Mount played with her 23-month-son Zachary, who is an only child, during Tuesday’s playgroup. Zachary placed toy cars on a track and played with the toy animals.
“He’s not used to being around a lot of other kids,” Joyner said. “He’s getting better.”
DEPC not only offers the playgroups but also links families with childcare providers and the resources to provide learning environments for their children at home, so that the children are “ready for school and successful once they get there,” Zalkind said.
In 2012, 3,303 families benefited from parent information provided by DEPC. The nonprofit serves 917 children per year with childcare scholarships and subsidies.