Tonight at the Haughty Heron will be all about ignition for the folks at North Florida Child Development, Inc.
An event, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET, also aims at dispensing with some perceptions.
Namely, that NFCD, with headquarters in Wewahitchka and facilities in six counties, is not a “day care” or a place for “babysitting.”
That the focus of the organization is not strictly on pre-school youngsters, but on their households and the creation of atmospheres for learning.
“We are an early child development program,” said Jade Hatcher, who spearheads the company’s HIPPY program which works with parents and families.
“We are preparing children and families for the public schools. They are receiving an enriching experience.”
Primarily, however, tonight’s event is focused on employees, the classroom staff and support personnel who work at locations from Port St. Joe to Calhoun, Madison, Franklin, Wakulla and Liberty counties.
The event is entitled, “Ignite,” and that is precisely what Hatcher and her team hopes to provide.
“We are changing the culture of our agency and lighting a fire for the staff at all our facilities,” Hatcher said. “We want to ignite their passion and we will even be lighting lanterns as a symbol of what we are doing.
“But, we also know that the early child development is not looked at in the same light as schools. We want to change that in our communities and let the community know about our services.”
Bobby Johns, football coach and athletic director at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, will be the guest speaker.
“There will also be a lot of mingling and time for the staff to relax and get to know each other,” Hatcher said.
One mission, forging a family atmosphere.
“If we build that family atmosphere, everybody benefits,” said Andi Morgan, a family and community partnership specialist at NFCD.
“We value them with their training and caring about their compassion for their jobs,” Morgan continued.
North Florida Child Development first took shape, in the mind and heart of president and CEO Sharon Gaskin, in 1993 and was incorporated in 2001.
In the past 17 years, the agency has offered a range of services beyond the core of Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
While becoming one of the larger employers in the region.
There are 50 alone employed in Gulf County, serving more than 400 children and families; 100 employees agency wide.
And that does not include the HIPPY program, which works with parents and families outside the classroom and in their homes.
“People don’t realize the amount of jobs we provide the community and the stability we provide in child education and development,” Hatcher said.
The HIPPY program is a pet project for Hatcher, who during her stints as an elementary teacher in the public schools saw first-hand the results of children who did not have education advocates in their households.
“I saw what happens when you lose parental engagement,” Hatcher said. “We want to teach parents how to be advocates for their child.”
In addition to the learning, Morgan noted, NFCD also provides health screenings and catches disabilities before the entrance into the public schools.
The overarching theme at NFCD: school readiness.
“When they arrive at the public schools the kids are prepped for success,” Hatcher said. “They are set for success.”