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story.lead_photo.caption Central Missouri Community Action logo

For at least a year, Central Missouri Community Action will expand some services beyond the eight counties in Central Missouri it already serves.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families has provided a grant that will allow the organization to provide Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Benton, Hickory and Morgan counties.

The $1.6 million grant, awarded Sunday, will allow CMCA to provide Head Start services to 60 children, and Early Head Start services to 44 infants, toddlers and pregnant women from Monday through June 30, 2020.

Those services were previously provided by West Central Missouri Community Action, which had operated the programs for more than 50 years. West Central was responsible for Head Start in eight counties. The remaining five counties are to be served by an organization that had been providing the programs on an interim basis.

CMCA already serves eight Central Missouri counties — Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Osage. It uses federal community service block grants and community support to help clients with employment, education, housing, nutrition, emergency services, health and to better use available income, CMCA Executive Director Darin Preis said.

CMCA has qualified to provide the programs for the next five years, and is likely to receive funding to do so, Preis said.

After disqualifying West Central from having the Administration of Children and Families, the agency put out a request for proposals for the programs' providers.

"I was worried those counties would go without Head Start services," Preis said. "We went ahead and applied. It was an extraordinarily long period."

Moniteau County is currently the closest county CMCA serves to the three that are to be added — it and Morgan County share a border.

"We'll add a couple of management positions. We feel like we've got a pretty good management system and policies in place," Preis said.

Initially, all current Head Start staff in the three new counties will become CMCA employees. The nonprofit will hold a hiring fair July 2 and 3 for current employees. Those current employees are also to receive information about the application process this week.

CMCA wishes to hire as many of the local employees for permanent positions as it can, Preis said.

"I do not celebrate the termination of a major program in a fellow Community Action agency, but we will honor the Head Start commitment to the communities and families in Benton, Hickory and Morgan counties," he said.

A goal is to make the transition as seamless as possible for families currently enrolled in Head Start programs.

CMCA has provided a question-and-answer page on its website to ease concerns of enrolled Head Start families.

The page says CMCA will not be responsible for any "debts/obligations, bills, etc.," from the previous grantee. The organization is only responsible for relationships beginning Monday.

"CMCA wants to be transparent about the transition of the Head Start program," it states. "Please send questions to pr@showmeaction.org, and we will publish answers here as well as responding directly."

The nonprofit works with local community organizations to maximize services for the most needy, and to reduce redundancies in services, the site states. Anyone who has an idea for community partnerships with the nonprofit is also encouraged to send those suggestions to pr@showmeaction.org.

The expansion to three counties CMCA previously didn't serve will be challenging, Preis said.

"It'll mean we have to extend ourselves a little bit," he said. "And apply all of our current systems in place in current counties. The underlying message is that CMCA is recognized as a high-quality provider of services."

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