JOHN DAY - The once quiet basement at Families First Parent Resource Center is filled with the sounds of children playing and learning, now that Grant County Head Start has moved in.

Head Start's first day in the new location was Wednesday, Feb. 1.

The comprehensive child development program, which operates under Umatilla-Morrow Head Start Inc., was at Humbolt Elementary School for two years. However, that classroom space was needed for elementary students after the closure of Mt. Vernon Middle School in June 2011 reconfigured the grade levels at the campus.

Since last September, Head Start has operated a "home based" program, with staff making weekly home visits to each enrolled family and holding weekly "socializations" where all the families gather to complete activities.

While that temporary operation sufficed, teacher Wendy Burril said it's good to have an actual classroom again.

"We are getting used to our new space and the kids are pretty excited," Burril said.

Burril has been with Head Start for five years. The first four, she was the teacher and child/family advocate. When Mark Lesniak, the previous program manager, retired last summer after 31 years with Head Start, Burril stepped into that role too.

Gayle Allen is in her sixth year as teacher assistant, and recently began doing home visits with some of the families.

New on the staff are Janet Rude, cook/janitor, and Ron Smith, who drives the Head Start bus.

The children get a nutritious breakfast and lunch every day, prepared by Rude using Families First's kitchen upstairs.

Bus transportation is provided for John Day, Canyon City and Mt. Vernon, but enrolled children may come from anywhere in Grant County.

Although the location was secured a few months ago, renovations to the space delayed opening until just a couple of weeks ago.

The basement, which is divided into three rooms, already had a bathroom and separate entrance. A fire exit door was added on the south side of the building, and a wash-up sink was put in. New carpeting, paint, shelving, and an office area for staff made the interior space suitable enough to move in the classroom furniture and other materials, and ring the bell for class.

Some changes have been made outside as well. A stairway with retaining wall was built for the fire exit door, and some fencing and gates were also refurbished. For now, part of the outside play area is muddy from the construction, but it will be spruced up as the weather warms up.

Tyler Sheedy Construction of John Day was the general contractor for the project.

Over the years, the basement was used for parenting classes and Families First's Her-oes and He-roes mentoring program.

Burril said the Head Start crew is still getting used to their new home and "figuring out what goes where."

"It was pretty hectic getting things together, but we're happy to finally be open," she said.

Head Start was first offered in Grant County in 1990 at Kiddie Castle Child Care in Canyon City. In 2003, the program moved to the old Blue Mountain Junior High School building in John Day, and in 2009, to Humbolt Elementary.

The child-focused program strives to increase school readiness in children ages 3-5, who come from low-income families. The children do not need to be toilet-trained, Burril said, but the program encourages that as a family goal.

Class runs from 8:30-noon, Monday-Thursday. The school year starts after Labor Day in September and finishes in mid-May.

Due to the slightly smaller location, there's only space for 17 children now. Previously the program enrolled 20.

Burril said there is always a waiting list, so she encourages parents to submit applications at any time of the year.

Grant County Head Start is at 401 S. Canyon Blvd., in John Day. The sign and main entrance is on the side street, 3rd Avenue.

For more information, call 541-575-1429.



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