NEWLAND — For the last five years, the Blue Ridge Partnership for Children has been helping families in the tri-county area prepare their children for success.

The independent, nonprofit organization formed in 2015 when the Mitchell-Yancey Partnership for Children merged with the Avery County Smart Start program. While the organization in its current form will celebrate its anniversary as the BRPC on July 1, its impact in the community goes back nearly 30 years through statewide efforts to establish public/private partnerships in communities across the state to prepare children to begin their formative education.

The General Assembly created Smart Start in 1993 after developments in the field of neuroscience revealed new insights into how the brain develops during the earliest stages of life. These studies showed that from birth to age 5 is when a child’s brain goes through its most significant stage of development, although recent research indicates that this stage lasts until a child’s eighth birthday.

“My favorite saying is that, ‘Everything I needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten.’ The foundation to learn all that stuff is built in the first five years. That’s what the Smart Start program wanted to work on and help families with,” Ruthie Styles, Community Development Manager at Blue Ridge Partnership for Children, said.

Through a combination of some state funds, private grants and fundraising, BRPC is able to provide a multitude of programs to encourage the flourishing of young minds and create a foundation for success early on in a child’s life.

One of these programs is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which provides children with a free, age-appropriate book in the mail every month from the day they are born to their fifth birthday. Locally, the program has impacted the lives of 1,842 children by distributing a total of 22,143 books in 2019 and 2020.

As a child receives books through the Imagination Library, they accumulate their own collection of reading material. Once a child establishes the habitat of reading on a regular basis early on in life, they are more likely to continue this habitat as they progress through the grade levels and into adulthood. The amount of words and vocabulary a child is exposed to early on can affect the child’s level of reading comprehension for years to come.

“Literacy is the quickest way out of poverty, because if you can’t read it’s really hard to function in today’s society. If we built that foundation and build a love of books and a love of reading and a love of learning, then we are building are future,” Styles said.

Parents and other families members will be able to sign their children up for the Imagination Library and other early childhood development-focused programs at BRPC’s Newland office at 215 Pineola Street in Newland. The office is set to reopen to the public on Monday, July 19. In order to enroll in BRPC programs sooner, the nonprofit can be contacted by calling (828) 733-2899.

In addition to the IL, the BRPC offers Play and Learn, a fun hour for children from birth to five years old to play together in a structured setting, and Blue Ridge Healthy Families, an intensive home-visiting service for families with newborns designed to increase protective factors and promote healthy childhood outcomes, among other programs that promote the growth and development of children and families.

For more information on Blue Ridge Partnership for Children, click to blueridgechildren.org.

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