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Bright Ideas, Anyone?

Digging into the enviable task of distributing $11.7 million a year in tobacco tax revenues to organizations that serve the county’s youngest residents, the Children and Families First Commission issued a challenge: Bring us an innovative idea of how to reduce learning barriers for children younger than 5.

And how the ideas have come--more than 70 applications already received with plenty more expected. Since September, the commission has given out nearly $1.27 million to 36 groups.

Many of those grants are for worthy but predictable programs such as doubling the capacity of a day-care center in Oxnard or increasing financial subsidies to low-income families that rely on after-school care programs in Camarillo.

Although those are perfectly good uses of these funds, we especially appreciate the groups that are taking this opportunity to do the sort of creative things that might never happen otherwise.

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One example: Holy Cross Preschool in Ojai will use $6,300 from the tobacco tax to build a path between its facility at Holy Cross Lutheran Church and Ojai Valley Hospital. The path will make it easier for seniors from the hospital’s skilled nursing unit to visit the preschool to socialize with children. Seniors play the role of informal foster grandparents to the children--to the benefit of both.

“The children gain a lot from it,” preschool director Lida Wachniuk told The Times. “It’s a way of increasing their experiences with older people and appreciating them. The elderly can contribute life experiences to the little ones.”

Another example: Ojai Unified School District will use $18,169 from Proposition 10 to purchase playground equipment for use by handicapped children at the Topa Topa Kindergarten Annex. The equipment will be placed alongside standard playground equipment to allow handicapped kids a chance to play with their peers.

In the Conejo Valley, Supervisor Frank Schillo and others will host a series of public meetings beginning Jan. 11 to discuss ways to use Proposition 10 money to help local kids get ready to start school. For information call 373-2564.

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What would help Ventura County kids age 5 and younger to get off to a strong, healthy start in life? We encourage all area residents to add their ideas to the mix.


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