CAPNA CEO Makes Goodwill Tour to Classrooms

CEO Tim Thrasher enjoys time with teachers and children during his goodwill tour of area classrooms

Community Action Partnership of North Alabama CEO Tim Thrasher has been aware of the many challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, both professionally and personally. He is also aware of the continued effects of the pandemic on agency programs, staff, and the families served. As the 2020 calendar year began to wind down, the CAPNA CEO decided to step up and reach out to those staff serving on the front lines each and every day.

Beginning in November, Tim and agency photographer/videographer Josh Garretson set out to capture the essence of Children’s Services in the midst of a pandemic. What they found was evidence of continued high-quality early childhood services that have long been the norm. Staff were masked, cleaning efforts were beefed up, and children were learning.

Here is some of the conversation we had with Tim about his goodwill tour:

CAP Connection: Why did you decide to tour the classrooms?

Tim Thrasher: I was on a WOW team call and heard a Center Director talk about how the challenges of the coronavirus were draining on the emotions of their staff due to wearing masks, social distancing, isolation, etc.  I decided based on the needs expressed by this Director for encouragement and support for her staff and based on my desire to see our services firsthand, that I would attempt to visit all of our classrooms before year end. In effect, the pandemic allowed me to step back and see the need and afforded me the time to make it happen for our amazing staff! 

CC: What stood out to you when you visited the classrooms?

TT: I was so impressed as I visited classrooms in regard to the resilience of the children and staff. I was especially impressed with our Classroom personnel as they continued to support families through intentional learning opportunities and structure. The staffs’ display of sincere care for the children and overall passion for serving others was very evident.  The children’s ability to adapt to new scheduling, masks, and their positive response to their instructors was exciting to witness. A couple of instances that stand out were when I crawled on the floor through a maze of boxes with the children, when I played catch with another child helping him to catch, and of course the new interactive dance moves modeled to me by the children. 

CC: What is the feedback you are getting from staff?

TT: The staff were very receptive to my visits and appreciated the support. I am grateful for all the emails, cards and comments received. The visits seemed like they accomplished the encouragement and support for those in the trenches each day! 

CC: What are the biggest challenges staff are facing?

TT: Many staff had or were facing struggles with their health, their family’s health, the children’s safety, the fear of contracting the virus, or the fear of a loved one having COVID-19.  One of the biggest challenges for those I spoke with was instructing students/families remotely and the additional time involved.

CC: What has impressed you the most?

TT: The respect I felt as I visited not only for myself and those in the central office,  but for the children and their individual team members.  I was very impressed with the structure and the resilience of all involved.  I was also impressed with the overall experience and dedication of our staff and leadership.

CC: Any anecdotes from teachers, children, families, etc.?

One teacher commented that “We are one big family and family works together even during COVID.” Another stated that “It has been difficult but I feel supported.”  When I asked what they needed, the majority replied, “I can’t think of anything,” but I also got “a raise, a turkey, a bonus, classroom furniture, a new sign, help with the unemployment process, etc.”  I think we covered all of these this year except for the turkey, as it would have been a logistical nightmare to ship turkeys to our almost 400 [classroom] staff members. 

Tim sums up his reflections on the goodwill classroom tour by saying, “[I am] So proud of the work our organization does to bring high quality education into the homes of families with children who have the potential to one day make this world a better place!  Thanks to all the Leaders, classroom and support personnel making this happen! Special thanks to Deborah Cottingham for scheduling and to Josh for his video/photography skills. As CEO, I loved my visits and was reminded of the need for high quality educators and services for the families we serve!  I still have a few more classrooms to go as a handful were closed early in December due to the rise in the virus. I truly look forward to my upcoming visits and learning more from our dedicated staff. “

From the initial shutdown in mid-March, classroom staff have put their creativity into overdrive to ensure their families are served by Head Start. From home deliveries of learning materials and other supplies to virtual classrooms through online platforms, Children’s Services staff have held the torch and forged ahead to answer their calling: Getting young children and their families ready for school and ready for life.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues its unrelenting hold on populations around the world, Partnership staff continue to go above and beyond to provide vital services to the most at risk. The CEO goodwill tour confirmed what most already knew: CAPNA continues to serve, continues to support, and continues to set the bar a little higher with each challenge it faces.

Decatur City Council Puts CDBG Funds in CAPNA’s Hands for COVID Relief

Photo credit: Gabby K from Pexels

The Decatur City Council is considering which agencies will benefit from the latest round of federal COVID-19 grant funding. Partnership Board member and Decatur Community Development Manager Allen Stover recently asked the City Council to approve a COVID-19 relief spending plan.

The funding received for the relief plan comes through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. The Partnership is recommended to receive $60,972 for rental and utility assistance.

During this already stressful time, having to worry about keeping a safe place to live is scary and overwhelming. 

Candy Ayers, Director of Homeownership

About how the funds will be used, Director of Homeownership Candy Ayers said, “The funds we receive will allow us to continue the much-needed rental and utility assistance in the city of Decatur.  Many Decatur citizens have lost their jobs or had hours reduced due to COVID-19 either for safety, quarantine or from contracting the virus.  During this already stressful time, having to worry about keeping a safe place to live is scary and overwhelming.  Many have never experienced the fear of homelessness. Those who did have savings have used it up because of being out of work so long.  Those who had unemployment benefits have exhausted those funds and now all of these issues put them behind on rent.  On behalf of the recipients of these funds, I thank the city of Decatur for caring for those who need a hand up in this vulnerable time.

Partnership CEO Tim Thrasher concluded, “We are especially grateful for our partnership with the City of Decatur in supporting rental assistance through Community Development Block Grant resources which help us carry out our mission of changing lives, helping people and building better communities across North Alabama.

Donors Choose Is a Win-Win for Everybody

Jennifer Simpson Serves Teaching Staff as DonorsChoose Advocate

Decatur City Center Director Jennifer Simpson was selected as a Teacher Advocate for DonorsChoose.org, a non-profit organization whose mission is to make it easy for anyone to help a teacher in need.

It gives us the extra income we need. It supplements the budget for the Partnership so they (teachers) can really get some of the things that we can’t always supply them through the company. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Jennifer Simpson, DonorsChoose Teacher Advocate

Jennifer was introduced to DonorsChoose.org by Children’s Services Director Kim Dodd in 2017 when she was serving the Partnership as a Pre-K teacher in Sylvania (DeKalb County). See how Jennifer now supports other classroom staff with on-demand guidance for submitting projects to the non-profit classroom funding site.

Meals on Wheels & More Reaches Out for Donations Through Local Media

Community Support the Backbone of Meals On Wheels & More
David Juarez loads a care package for weekly meal delivery

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect people and businesses across the state and across the world, the Partnership’s Meals on Wheels & More program has again teamed up with the Decatur Daily for its February fundraising campaign.

Each year, the Decatur Daily accepts donations for the Meals on Wheels & More program in an effort to garner community support and help provide the supplemental funding needed to keep the program in operation. Unlike other Meals on Wheels & More programs, the Partnership’s program is not funded annually by the national Meals on Wheels America organization. Meals on Wheels & More relies on donations from the public to stay operational. While local governments do provide some funding for the program, the majority of funding comes from private donations and United Way of Morgan County, which is also driven by donations.

Due to the pandemic that began in the spring of last year, Meals on Wheels & More has had to adjust its operations to be able to continue to serve nearly 300 homebound elderly and disabled meal recipients in Morgan County. Instead of a hot, nutritious meal delivered to the door of each recipient every weekday, the program has had to adjust its schedule to deliveries only on Wednesdays. Those deliveries include a hot meal plus a weekly care package with items that recipients can easily prepare for themselves for the rest of the week.

With a continuing decline in revenue, and a budget now at almost 10% below that of 2018, increased donations are critical to keep the number local residents being served at its current level. Because of COVID-19, the number of meal recipients served fell more than 15% from 300 t0 254. Additionally, volunteers have dropped from more than 50 volunteers per month to less than 20 since most of the volunteers are in the high-risk categories for contracting coronavirus. Without monetary donations, the number of recipients may fall even further, leaving vulnerable populations on the waiting list for the meal delivery service.

Meals on Wheels & More is asking for the community’s support by donating to the program through the Decatur Daily by making a contribution at the Decatur Daily office, or they can be mailed to Meals on Wheels, c/o The Decatur Daily, P.O. Box 2213, Decatur AL 35609-2213.

The Decatur Daily will accept financial contributions for Meals on Wheels in February and publish the names of donors who wish to be recognized.

Checks should be made out to Meals on Wheels. Donors are asked to specify who should be placed on the list of contributors The Daily publishes or indicate that it should be labeled as an anonymous gift. The check signer will be listed if there are no instructions.

Anyone interested in volunteering for Meals on Wheels & More can contact Kitchen Manager Shontez Wynn by phone at 256-351-6850 or 256-565-3386, or by email at shontez.wynn@capna.org.

You’re Never Too Young to Want to Be President

As Joe Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th president just before noon E.T. on Wednesday, January 20th, Ratchford B (Oneonta, AL) teacher Ashley Chumley led her Preschool Head Start class of three- and four-year-olds in a history lesson.

Children in Ashley Chumley’s Ratchford B classroom watch the Joe Biden inauguration ceremony

Ashley and teacher assistant Claudia Zamora led the students in conversations about being a President, such as where they live, some of the things they do as president, and how they keep us safe.

The children were shown photos of all presidents from past to present as well as an image the White House. Ashley reported that the children were visibly excited to be able to watch Mr. Biden become President while they watch. The children were asked to help make a list of what makes a good president:

Ratchford B children made a list of what traits help to make a good president

After the inauguration, the children were asked what would they do if they were President. Some answers included, “Go to Walmart and buy some flags,” “Dance with my dog,” and “Watch a big TV.”

Children shared what they would do if they were president through dictation and artwork

Families who are interested in applying for Ratchford Early Head Start (ages birth to 3) or Preschool Head Start (ages 3 to 5) may contact the center at (205) 625-6254, or visit us online at CAPNA Children’s Services.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (to Recruit)

The winter holiday season is for most a time spent with family, sharing home cooked meals, and shopping for gifts. For Head Start staff, it is also a time to connect with the community and recruit families for Early Head Start and Head Start.

Ft. Payne Head Start staff prepare to participate in the 2020 Ft. Payne Christmas parade

Center Director Theresa Dalton (Ft. Payne) and her staff participated in a Recruitment & Community Involvement event last December by entering a float in the Ft. Payne Christmas parade to get the word out to families that Head Start recruiting season lasts all year. As the parade moved through the downtown streets, members of the Ft. Payne team walked alongside their school bus-themed float and passed out recruitment flyers while others rode atop the float, throwing candy and greeting parade spectators from the DeKalb County town of about 14,000 people.

Center Director Theresa Dalton (front) and staff prepare to participate in the Ft. Payne Christmas parade

Families interested in Ft. Payne Early Head Start (ages birth to 3) or Preschool Head Start (ages 3 to 5) can call (256) 845-9176 for Preschool Head Start or (256) 845-5951 for Early Head Start, or visit us online to complete an application at CAPNA Children’s Services.

“Be the Light” Event Supports Moulton Head Start Families

Center Director Edie Dugger organizes home energy efficiency kits for distribution to families

Moulton Head Start rallied the community during their December Be the Light event as vital fire safety information, equipment, and assistance was shared with area families with low incomes.

Moulton Head Start Center Director Edie Dugger and Assistant Center Director Carolyn Brackin Orr sought and received support from community leaders to provide participating families with items such as high efficiency light bulbs, smoke detectors, power surge protectors, flashlights, and lamp.

Moulton Assistant Center Director Carolyn Brackin Orr prepares for the center’s Be the Light event

During the Be the Light event alone, more than 50 energy assistance applications were distributed to local families. Thanks to monetary contributions by local agencies, public and private businesses, multiple families received assistance with their utility bills. All families receiving assistance were screened for eligibility before being entered into a random drawing (excluding CAPNA employees).

A total of 46 smoke detectors were donated along with HOMEnergy efficiency kits from CAPNA, courtesy of TVA. The kits included energy efficiency tools such as weather stripping, switch plates, caulk, and other materials to help reduce energy consumption.

Moulton Head Start students show off their Fire Safety Manual coloring books during Fire Safety Week

In addition to the items distributed to families, Moulton Head Start students participated in fire safety activities that included materials donated from the local fire department. Thanks to the extensive community support, Moulton Head Start families are able to live a little safer and sleep a little warmer.

Families interested in applying for Moulton Head Start may contact the center at 256-974-0961 or by visiting https://capna.org/childrens-services/.

New Non-Contact Processes in Place for Utility Assistance

In response to COVID-19 and recommendations by state health officials, Community Action Partnership of North Alabama is implementing a new non-contact process for accepting applications for energy assistance.  Beginning Friday, May 22nd applications for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will be available for pickup from outdoor literature boxes at the 3 CAPNA offices in Decatur, Moulton, and Cullman, at local utility company offices, and on the CAPNA website at www.capna.org/energy-assistance

While all three CAPNA offices remain closed to the public, residents of Cullman, Lawrence, and Morgan counties will follow the new non-contact procedures for applying for energy assistance until further notice.  Complete applications will still require specific documentation for determining eligibility.  The application packet has an instruction sheet with a step-by-step guide for the new process.

Completed applications with required documentation can be submitted in one of four ways: 

  • Scanned and emailed to liheap@capna.org
  • Mailed to Community Action Partnership in Decatur at 1909 Central Parkway SW, Decatur AL, 35601, ATTN: LIHEAP Department
  • Faxed to 256-355-7953, ATTN: LIHEAP Department
  • Placed in the physical drop box at the Central Office location in Decatur.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ADECA contracts with community action agencies and local nonprofit agencies to deliver LIHEAP to low-income households throughout the state (source: The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs).

Long Distance Deliveries

Head Start Teachers Reach Out While Social Distancing

Teachers Sheri Phillips and Lynn Justice are taking the separation from their Scottsboro Head Start students one day at a time. Although schools in Alabama are now closed for the remainder of the year, staff are working behind the scenes to ensure their families are taken care of.

“We had a really good day yesterday delivering  care packages and Easter Baskets to all of our children.  We kept a safe distance with the children and families, which was a challenge because they wanted hugs and so did we.”

Like all Head Start classrooms, Partnership staff form lasting relationships with their families.  While they are unable to teach the children in a traditional sense, Sheri and Lynn have taken advantage of the limited personal time with their students during care package deliveries. They recently used social distancing during deliveries as a teachable moment by discussing the importance of staying safe and well, what social distancing means, and why hugs are off limits, at least for the time being.

At each family’s home, Sheri and Lynn have been greeted with excited children who were promised “a million hugs” once the COVID-19 pandemic is over and staff and children are reunited. Lynn said of one delivery, “We put the package on the porch, knocked, and quickly stepped back from the door.  We heard (the student) coming to the door so we waited in the yard. When he opened the door and saw his surprises on the porch he flung the door open and said, “Oh my goodness!  Wow!  Look, Mommy!” Instead of the usual hug, he waved and yelled to his teachers, “Hey, Ms. Lynn! Hey, Mrs. Sheri! I love you, Ms. Lynn. I miss you!  I love you, Mrs. Sheri. I miss you!  Thank you for my presents!”

While visits with families are from a safe distance, the staff continue to value the strong bonds they have built with their families throughout the school year. Teacher Lynn Justice summed up the visits by saying, “If I do not do anything else this year my heart is full, I would not trade those few minutes for anything.” 

Modeling the Way: Birth to Pre-K

“Studies show that without high quality childcare programs are nothing more than glorified babysitters. This is taxpayer money well-spent.” – Sen. Arthur Orr (R), Decatur

Members of the Decatur-Morgan County legislative delegation were recently treated to a tour of the new Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center (VCT ELC) to see how a new model for early childhood education is being implemented in Decatur.

The VCT ELC houses both Head Start and state Pre-K classrooms under the same roof. And recently the center expanded its services with additional Early Head Start classrooms to serve children birth to 3 plus pregnant women. The site will be able to provide continual early learning services to children from birth to four years, allowing parents to keep their young children enrolled at one location until they are eligible for kindergarten.

Kim Dodd, Director of Children’s Services for the Partnership, explained that the Infant/Toddler classrooms for children birth to three provides the same services with mixed funding. “The focus is on intentional play through developmentally appropriate practices.”

Secretary Jeana Ross of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education said, “This is the perfect example to create the birth to school continuum. With developmentally appropriate practices and high-quality experiences, this is the best early care program. A vision has come to fruition.”

Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Rep. Parker Moore (R-Decatur) help preschool students at Vivian Conatser-Turner build a tower with foam bricks during a tour of the new facility.

In his remarks, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) highlighted the importance of high-quality early childcare. “Studies show that without high-quality childcare programs are nothing more than glorified babysitters. This is taxpayer money well-spent. We have miles to go but we are making good progress.”

As the liaison for the Vivian Conatser-Turner endowment that funded the Early Learning Center bearing the same name, Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), acknowledged the role that high-quality childcare has in working families. “Childcare is a really big component to fulfilling our workforce needs.”

Take a virtual tour of the Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center here:

To learn more about the Vivian Conatser-Turner Early Learning Center, contact Center Director Heather Kennedy at heather.kennedy@capna.org or 256-580-5450.