Families get a boost from state’s smokers | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Families get a boost from state’s smokers

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

To cash-hungry South Shore programs dependent on state funding, the annual $850,000 available from the El Dorado County Children and Families Commission is like a stocked buffet with all the fixings.

The commission, which formed two years ago this month, receives $1.7 million each year from California tobacco tax money that is used for enriching and educating the lives of children 5 years old and younger.

Half of the $1.7 million, or $850,000, is designated to fulfill grant proposals for county programs that target children as well as pregnant women.

Thirty percent of the grant money is used by South Lake Tahoe programs, said Steven Thaxton, executive director.

“We have an extremely active commission,” Thaxton said. “I think we have been able to get a lot of information out to the public about the development of young children. We’re starting to fund some initiatives that will have a long-lasting effect for young children and families. It’s gone really well.”

South Lake Tahoe programs that received grant money include the Family Resource Center, Tahoe Youth and Family Services, South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center, Department of Public Health and Sierra Recovery Center.

Delicia Spees, head of the Family Resource Center, first applied for a $15,000 grant last fall for child and parent enrichment. Swimming classes, academic tutoring and computer software games were included in the enrichment plan.

But the major grant money, more than $315,000 for three years, is expected to help 225 parents and 150 children each year, Spees said.

One key component gained from the grant money is a part-time bilingual therapist.

“She will be working with mothers in parenting classes,” Spees said. “When a baby is born, a mother goes through so many changes, the baby blues. They’re isolated and don’t know changes in hormones. This way we’re able to identify if she’s depressed.”

The center is in the process of adding another full-time bilingual counselor — one is already on staff — for client outreach, home visitations and setting up parenting classes.

Spees said the Children and Families Commission is a resource for much- needed money in a time of shrinking state revenue.

There are four committees within the commission: finance, evaluation, planning and program development and public relations.

Vicki Barber, superintendent of schools in El Dorado County, is the chair of the evaluation committee that focuses on the progress and impact of programs using grant money.

The committee works closely with Harder & Company Evaluation Firm. Quarterly reports, written surveys and stipends are looked at to make sure the grant money is getting good use.

The commission installed fire walls to protect itself from fraudulent requests. A group of out-of-county residents reads initial grant proposals and submits the proposals to the commission with a rating.

“What we found, I would say almost without exception, we have known the programs or individuals who are getting funds,” Barber said. “The process has been set up to ensure against those types of problems.”

An interview is set and Thaxton, the executive director, frequently does a site visit.

The nine-member commission is made of representatives from different geographical regions of El Dorado County with backgrounds in health, education and law.

“I would certainly commend the (El Dorado County) Board of Supervisors on how they supervised the committee,” Barber said.

Valerie Finnigan, the public health nurse at South Lake Tahoe, received funding for an immunization shot program, lactation education and discounted car seats for women. She cited the Young Parent Program at South Tahoe High School receiving close to $300,000 in grant money for two counselors, facility renovation and educational materials.

“We wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things without that money,” Finnigan said. “There are a lot of budget cuts in the state and usually (state) money is matched with federal money. A lot of programs are going to be funded with grant money. I think we started applying for money right away.”

Statistics show tobacco sales are decreasing. The commission receives Proposition 10 money, passed by voters in 1998, that placed a 50-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes. The result is a Catch-22: People are improving their health by smoking less which trims the amount of money the commission gets from the state.

Steps were taken by the commission to combat the slowdown in revenue. More than $400,000 is used for reinvestment funds and interest will be milked and utilized for future grant money.

A 2002 report on the Children and Families Commission will be presented at the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors public hearing at South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 12.

— Contact William Ferchland at (530) 542-8014 or wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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