Good news for the V.I. Department of Human Services, which announced Thursday it will receive $42 million in construction grants with a zero local match.
The grant money will go towards their Head Start program and benefit children and families that participate in the early childhood programs. “The program is not just educational, it is wrapped around the entire family,” said Commissioner of Human Services Kimberley Causey-Gomez. “It is the total support. It allows children to be in a secure and safe state-of-the-art environment that they can learn and are excited about learning and preparing for the next step, which is kindergarten.”
The award includes funds to:
— Construct a state-of-the-art Head Start multi-classroom center at the currently shuttered Charles H. Emmanuel Elementary School site.
— Demolish and rebuild the Concordia Head Start
— Construct a Head Start center at the long unutilized Department of Human Services Bolongo property.
— Construct a mega center at the Tabor and Harmony site.
In September 2020, the Head Start Program worked with the U.S. Department of Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Head Start to fulfill all requirements for approval. The grant money was due to damage from the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. “A lot of our facilities were damaged during this time,” said Causey-Gomez. The team is also awaiting decisions on two more grants that would increase the current construction total and Causey-Gomez said that the news should hopefully come by the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.
The Department of Human Services said that the grants were complicated and detailed in nature, but the Head Start team fought to secure the resources that will tremendously benefit the territory’s youngest learners for generations to come. Causey-Gomez said how proud she was of the Head Start team and said there were factors that contributed to the zero local match.
“I think they looked at our poverty level, our history of serving our children and families respectively and doing that really well. We had the hiccup of two Category 5 hurricanes and now COVID-19. So, they looked at the needs of our islands and our community and that was proven in our application,” she told the Source.
The grant applications included the conceptual design phase for the new builds and upgrades. With the approval of the grants, the Head Start team is now moving into the architectural and engineering phase. Additional details will be released as the team continues to work closely with the Department of Property and Procurement and the Department of Public Works. Assistant Commissioner Carla Benjamin said, “I am encouraged and excited. This funding will allow us to upgrade the early childhood education system in the territory. That will benefit us for generations.”
Currently, the Head Start program can accommodate 794 students and is recruiting on St. Croix and St. Thomas. At the moment, however, they are abiding by COVID-19 restrictions and have plans to reduce class sizes for safety, but they can also go virtual as well.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. also expressed his excitement for the grant approval and said, “This is fantastic news and is of great importance to the community and our future as a territory. I am proud of the Department of Human Services Head Start team’s diligent efforts to ensure the best resources are secured for those who need them most. Giving children the tools, they need to succeed in life is crucial for their wellbeing and is a priority of the administration.”
If you are interested in Head Start registration:
— The Department of Human Services-Head Start Program registration process is ongoing throughout the year.
— Children must be three years old by Dec. 31. Parents must bring the child’s birth certificate and proof of income that shows the family meets the federal guideline for income eligibility.
— Adults who are guardians must provide evidence of guardianship such as a court order.
— Parents of children with disabilities are especially encouraged to apply for enrollment.
If you would like to create an account or need more information:
— Feel free to create an account, if you have not already, and apply through Head Start’s online portal.
— Questions for the Head Start office can be addressed at 340-773-1972 on St. Croix or 340-774-0930, ext. 4200 on St. Thomas.
— Families may also email Masikia.firstname.lastname@example.org and Michael.email@example.com.
For general information, visit the Department of Human Services website, www.dhs.gov.vi or on Facebook at U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Human Services.