Smart Start Blog

August 2022 - Meet One of Our Nurses!

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Hello Smart Start friends, family, and community!

We thought it might be nice to get to know one of the nurses who works on our newborn nurse home visiting program, Family Connects. Karen Escobar has been with us for about 6 months now and has been an incredible addition to our team. Read the interview below to get to know her a little better, and stay tuned for our next blog post!

Can you tell us about yourself?

Yes! I was born in Mexico and moved here with my parents when I was a young child. I am one of three siblings and am the oldest. My parents were always such amazing, hard-working, fighters and gave us a great life, despite barriers they faced. We moved here when I was little and love the area, so I look forward to raising my children here. I am married and have a son and a daughter. Those kids are my world!

How long have you been in nursing?

I have been a nurse for over 11 years and have been in the maternal child specialty from the beginning. I love caring for these patients and absolutely love getting to work with them in the outpatient setting.

What made you want to follow this career path?

From a young age, I was the second momma to my little sister and brother. I feel like my urge to take care of them fed into my desire to be a nurse and care for others!

What do you love most about working with Family Connects?

I love being able to provide support to families in the outpatient setting. All I had ever done is care for them at the hospital and then send them on their way. It never feels like enough! Being a new parent is so hard, so being able to support families and make the connections they need to succeed is truly rewarding.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Being a new program in the area has been challenging because I do not think enough people know about us and how we can help. I look forward getting the word out to serve more families.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Still delivering babies at the hospital and serving families with Family Connects! I hope this program continues to grow and I would love to be a part of that. 😊 My hope is to continue learning and gaining experience in my specialty to better serve families.

What makes you laugh the most?

My kids! They say the funniest things! Kids are so fun and mine are wild and keep us laughing. They get their sense of humor from their dad! 😊

What is your favorite place? It could be a room, city, or a person, even.

Outside! My favorite place is any place I can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.

What motivates you?

My family motivates me! Life is hard. But having my family as constant reminders of why I do what I do, motivates me to push myself to do better. Be better.

If you could choose only one piece of advice to give all new parents, what would it be?

You are not alone! There is always another mom, or dad, that understands or can relate to you. So, reach out to people. Find a circle of friends, family members, support group, or an organization, such as Family Connects, and find comfort in knowing that we can all work together.

November 2021

The Hendersonville YMCA has been hosting Story Time in partnership with Smart Start Partnership for Children. These once-a-month readings started during their Welcome Week and have grown into a strong early literacy partnership. Pictured above, Program Coordinator Ashley Lamb reads to children at the YMCA. 

April 2021

Smart Start Partnership for Children has been awarded funding to implement Family Connects. 

The North Carolina Partnership for Children (NCPC), which leads the statewide Smart Start network, and Family Connects International (FCI) recently announced new community programs that will serve nearly 10,000 North Carolina families over three years.

Pilots — led by the Children’s Council of Watauga County, the Smart Start Partnership for Children, and the Partnership for Children of Cumberland County — will provide families of newborns in eight North Carolina communities access to comprehensive support to ensure children receive the care and nurturing they need to thrive.

These new pilots will combine Family Connects’ universal home visiting model with the community assets and local services coordinated by the Smart Start network and the statewide coordinated care referral network powered by the NCCARE360 digital platform. Services will be provided in Watauga, Ashe, Avery, Henderson, Polk, Cumberland, Hoke, and Robeson counties. Reaching children and families in rural communities is a priority in these pilots, as rural areas tend to have greater unmet need in-home visiting services.

To read the full story visit Avery Journal. 

Stay tuned for more information on the local Henderson County efforts. 

February 2021

February 2021 News in Early Childhood

The impacts of the global pandemic have been felt in every aspect of society and especially in early childhood. The North Carolina Partnership for Children has released the following one-pager to update legislatures on the impact of this crisis on the youngest members of our community. 

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December 2020 News in Early Childhood

Jodie Williams, an early educator at Bell's School for People Under Six in Fletcher, has been named Henderson County's 2020 Go NAPSACC Teacher of the Year for her commitment to supporting the health of the county's youngest residents.

The Go NAPSACC Program of Henderson County provides support to early childhood education centers and family child care homes to improve best practices related to physical activity and nutrition.

Read the full article at by clicking here.  

September 2020 News in Early Childhood

Your Smart Start September 2020

Smart Start partners with The Town of Mills River for kindergarten transition. 

Smart Start Partnership for Children has received a $3,000 grant from the Town of Mills River to expand Kindergarten Transition programming into Mills River Elementary. In partnership with Henderson County Public Schools, Smart Start is leading an initiative to help prepare children and families to begin kindergarten ready to learn.  Smart Start hosts Henderson County's Annual Kindergarten Readiness Rally in the Spring and provides leadership for transition teams housed within local elementary schools.

Executive Director, Sonia Gironda says:

“Working together with early care and education professionals and local elementary schools, we hope to build a bridge that will help children be better prepared to begin kindergarten ready to succeed. We aim to support children and families in all areas of development including language development, emotional and social development, cognitive development, physical development and self-care, and approaches to learning.”

June 2020 News in Early Childhood

Your Smart Start June 2020

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Many things have changed since we last checked in. With Gov. Cooper's recent "Stay at Home" order many centers in Henderson County were forced to close, but there are 28 centers currently open in Henderson County serving the families of essential workers. Essential workers rely on childcare programs in order to keep fighting this virus on the frontlines. The educators at these centers are risking their own health in order to make sure that these workers have a safe, reliable, and high-quality environment for their children.

In order to show appreciation for our early childhood heroes in the county, Smart Start Partnership for Children in collaboration with the Children Family Resource Center launched an effort to celebrate early childcare educators as essential workers.

With funding provided by the WNC Bridge Foundation we were able to deliver yard signs provided by NC Printing to all centers open and closed that read “Early Childhood Heroes Work Here”. We also dropped off individually packaged heart-shaped cookies from Gateaux in Hendersonville. Additionally, NC Printing provided ‘We Are All Essential’ t-shirts to all childcare center directors free of charge. Smart Start Partnership for Children strives to be a strong voice for early childhood in our community. We want to make sure that our child care providers feel appreciated and that our community recognizes the essential role that child care providers are playing in the community’s response to Covid-19.


May 2020 News in Early Childhood

Your Smart Start May 2020

Leandro Report Released

Stemming from a court case Leandro v. North Carolina filed in 1994 by five low-wealth school districts who claimed that they did not have enough money to provide an equal education to their students. A report has been released from the Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education. 

Among many recommendations is included the recommendation to scale up the Smart Start program to increase quality, access, and support for at-risk children and families. The consultant found that Smart Start’s current legislative appropriations fund 5% of the calculated need for early childhood in the state and calls for new funds to reach 25% of need, as originally outlined. This would total $532 million over the next eight years. 

The Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education will meet again later in January. Over the next few months, the court is expected to begin issuing orders based on the recommendations of the Commission and the WestEd report. These orders will require consideration and action from the General Assembly during this year’s legislative session, which will begin in April or May

This information is provided by the North Carolina Partnership for Children. 
The commission's work has confirmed what the early childhood community already knows: a sound basic education begins at birth. The report shows that current investments are not sufficient to guarantee an accessible and high quality early childhood system.  The Leandro case provides a potential avenue to secure  new funds and policy changes needed to strengthen the early childhood system in North Carolina.