Many organizations from Chautauqua County put a strong emphasis on making sure that area children have access to any services that they might need to grow up in a healthy, nurturing environment.
Three of those organizations, Chautauqua Connections Inc., Chautauqua County Early Intervention and Chautauqua Tapestry, recently teamed up to hold a forum at the Carnahan Training Center at JCC. The forum focused on finding ways to better serve all children ages birth through 5 and support their social, physical, developmental and mental-health needs in Chautauqua County.
"The thought process behind our mission is just to create partnerships and foster communication to better serve all children," said Pat Smeraldo of Chautauqua Connections Inc. "That was our goal from the onset, to bring us all together and work together. There are a tremendous amount of initiatives, programs and groups in this county."
In total, there were 30 agencies and groups represented, as well as parents. Organizations that attended the meeting included: Campus Community Children's Center, Chautauqua County Association for Young Children, COI, Buffalo Hearing and Speech, Jamestown Public Schools, Parent Network of WNY, Falconer Public Schools, Cornell Cooperative Extension Connections Board, WIC, Early Childhood Directions Center of WNY, Rehabilitation Station, WNY Infant-Toddler Resource Network, Chautauqua County Health Network, Children Educational Services, The Resource Center, Chautauqua Tapestry Connections Board, Achievement Center, SUNY Fredonia Early Learning Center, CASAC, Chautauqua Lake Child Care, Aspire, YWCA, The Tobacco Free Agency of WNY, Jamestown Community Learning Council and 2-1-1 WNY, as well as members from Congressman Tom Reed's office and parents of children in the system.
"Many of (the organizations) know what it's like trying to get the services that the parents need to the rural areas of Chautauqua County," Smeraldo said. "But even in Dunkirk and Jamestown, we have an ESL population to contend with that it's very important that we reach out to."
Prior to the forum, surveys were sent out to the participating organizations in order to prioritize the topics that needed to be looked at more closely.
"We had parents responding to a survey that we sent out saying that if their child needed access to services, they had no idea where to turn," said Paul Robbins, who presented to the group with Smeraldo. "Others said that families lacked an understanding of what was available to them. Another limitation that we saw was funding."
According to Smeraldo, due to funding streams being in trouble, area agencies have lost funding and had to come up with different strategies to address problems. If the like-minded groups in Chautauqua County can develop a collaborative effort where they all assist each other then it will be much easier to provide assistance where it's necessary. Smeraldo, who also works for Jamestown Public Schools, compared it to organizations like BOCES, which are based off the idea of shared services.
"My goal is to put everybody in a position where they're in touch with each other," Smeraldo said.