Clackamas County Children's Commission at a crossroads
Darcee Kilsdonk, who began work as executive director of the Clackamas County Children's Commission (CCCC) on June 3, has had a busy first few months on the job.
Within weeks of leading the organization that provides countywide Head Start programming, Kilsdonk faced the loss of space for low-income preschools at Mulino and Oak Grove elementary school. Meanwhile, she is hoping to make up for a $800,000 to $1 million shortfall to expand Head Start's county headquarters.
Kilsdonk says if the project does not go out for construction bids by October, the organization will lose access to a $390,000 Community Development Block Grant from federal sources administered by Clackamas County. CCCC is a nonprofit organization that, despite its name, receives no funding directly from Clackamas County's general fund; most of CCCC's funding comes from federal and state sources.
As for the loss of space, Kilsdonk is grateful it won't result in any service reductions for this school year. She says thanks to the ingenuity of her staff and generosity of nearby school districts, Head Start will continue to be able to offer 11 Head Start locations at areas across the county.
Mulino's students will head to the Molalla Center, a move that Kilsdonk says is for the best, since most of the Head Start families served during the last school year in Mulino Elementary were commuting from Molalla.
Another space was found at King Elementary in Oregon City to accommodate the loss of space in Oak Grove. The Oregon City School District closed King Elementary in 2012 and now rents out half of the school to the Oregon City Service Learning Academy; the other half is being split by OC special-education services and Head Start.
New CCCC director
Kilsdonk says she has a passion for serving vulnerable populations. She said her previous experiences show her desire to continue to foster Head Start's valuable partnerships throughout the county through strong and effective systems.
For the past four years, Kilsdonk worked as a grantee specialist traveling throughout Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska to assist Head Start programs that were struggling with management systems.
Prior to that, she spent 11 years as director of Umatilla Morrow Head Start, serving children and families across seven counties in rural eastern Oregon. Before that, Kilsdonk developed K-12 programs for children with challenging behaviors, as well as children with multiple disabling conditions, in the Hermiston School District's special-education program.
"I believe children and families from vulnerable situations ought to have access to the best care and facilities possible, as well as the most talented and engaging staff to work alongside them in preparing them for school and future success," she said.
CCCC's pending project is phase three for construction of Head Start's county headquarters at 16518 S.E. River Road, Oak Grove. The front part of the property is a former church that was renovated in 2002 to house two classrooms and a kitchen. In phase two, Head Start built structures for two new classrooms.
A third phase is envisioned to add some office space and another classroom. Pointing out that Head Start purchased the three acres on River Road, Kilsdonk said the organization badly needs more space so it doesn't have to rent out office space off-site.
In 2018, $1.2 million was budgeted for the third phase, but further cost estimates came out in January/February at $1.9 million and $2.1 million in May/June. If funding can be raised quickly to cover the shortfall, it is hoped the project can break ground in March and be completed in time for the beginning of the school year in 2020.
"There's so much building right now, and contractors are in high demand, so costs are rising that fast," Kilsdonk said.
CCCC has worked with architects on cost-saving measures in constructing the proposed expansion.
"Our goal is to leave the classroom intact, so we lowered ceilings and removed windows on the office space to save money," Kilsdonk said.
Head Start's headquarters provides preschool services for a growing population of 800 families annually, more than half of whom meet the federal qualifications of homeless. Those services include screening kids early for health, nutrition, vision and potential disabilities.
"A lot of people don't know about the comprehensive aspect of Head Start, and we believe that getting a child ready for school involves getting the whole family ready," Kilsdonk said. "We've been really blessed by the community, so we've been trying to continue to meet the demand."
There's a Sept. 29 concert scheduled to benefit the project, and donations also can be made at cccchs.org/river-road-expansion. Kilsdonk welcomes calls from community members for more information about the project.
"We're happy to talk with them about the need," she said.
Head Start begins school year
What: Three-and-half-hour school days, Monday-Thursday, include two meals per classroom day. Included are family advocacy services, developmental support, and health, dental, vision and hearing screenings.
Bilingual: Everyone on the bilingual in English and Spanish, but interpreters also will be available.
Where: Locations in Oregon City, West Linn, Milwaukie, Gladstone, Estacada, Boring, Canby
Eligibility: All Clackamas County children ages 3-5. Priority placement is given to children who are 4 years old by Sept. 1, children in foster care, displaced, doubled-up or families living in poverty. Everyone is encouraged to apply and families from diverse backgrounds and situations are accepted.
No training required: Diapers/pull-ups supplied at school.
Benefit concert with Michael Allen Harrison
What: Afternoon of music, silent auction and ice cream social in support of Clackamas County Children's Commission's River Road Expansion Project
When: 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29
Where: Canby Pioneer Chapel, 508 N.W. Third Ave.
More: Call Darcee Kilsdonk at 503-675-4565 or visit cccchs.org
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