Education, public health and nonprofit leaders launch campaign to help infants, toddlers

FLINT — Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD) today joined with county educators, public health officials and nonprofit leaders to kick off an awareness campaign that will remind Flint parents, grandparents and caregivers of the importance of making sure their children ages 0-5 receive free developmental evaluations.

“Developmental evaluations for all Flint children up to age five who may have been impacted by the city’s water crisis are a priority, even in the midst of an ongoing pandemic,” GISD Superintendent Dr. Lisa A. Hagel said during a news conference that was held virtually in order to comply with Michigan’s safe-distancing protocols to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

More than 5,000 Flint children have already been referred to the GISD’s Early On® program for an evaluation since the Flint water crisis began in 2016. Early On has provided more than 70,000 free early intervention services over the past five years for children in Flint up to the age of five, including but not limited to speech therapy, physical therapy, service coordination, family training and counseling, occupational therapy and other types of services based on the needs of the child and family.

“We recognize and empathize with how challenging it can be for parents to identify when a child is delayed in reaching developmental milestones,” Hagel said. “Therefore, GISD is working with its partners to help inform the community of the ease and importance of utilizing the support and free resources available through the Early On program,” she said. “If parents are wondering if their children should be speaking, or reaching other developmental markers, the Early On program is here to help, at no cost.”

GISD campaign partners helping to promote awareness about the free Early On opportunity include:

• Flint Community Schools

• Food Bank of Eastern Michigan

• Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

• Local physicians and healthcare partners in the community

• Flint-area daycare providers

The Michigan Department of Education has provided GISD’s Early On program with grant funding to identify Flint infants and children 0-5 years old who qualify for a free developmental evaluation and provide early intervention services to them as needed.

Early diagnosis and treatment for developmental delays increases the chances of improvement rather than simply “waiting it out” and treating problems later. Treating communication and language difficulties early on can prevent potential problems with behavior, learning, reading and social interaction, noted Genesee County Board of Health member and Flint pediatrician Dr. Lawrence Reynolds.

“Research has shown that addressing delays early on – especially between birth and age 5 – can more effectively promote a child’s development, even into adulthood,” Reynolds said.

“Due to the water crisis in Flint, education and health professionals are committed to addressing the needs of any child exposed to lead,” he said. “The Genesee County Board of Health will do everything we can to assure parents and caregivers that Early On is a trusted, reliable source of help for their children.”

During the campaign, messages about GISD’s Early On program will be featured in print publications and outdoor and digital advertising, as well as on radio, television, and social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Many of the ads and videos will feature Flint families whose children received early evaluations and are overcoming developmental delays as a result, such as Flint mother Joi Gloster whose 4-year-old son Micah has benefitted from speech and behavioral services the family has received through Early On.

Gloster requested a free Early On evaluation when Micah was 2-years-old after she became concerned by his lack of talking and aggressive behavior. Now two years later, Gloster said she is happy to report her son is thriving, thanks to the support and guidance they received from Early On staff.

“Early On has been a blessing for me and Micah and helped me become a better advocate for my child,” Gloster said. “I’m very happy with how much they’ve helped me because as a single mother, I didn’t know where I could go for help in terms of some of the speech and behavior issues I was seeing in Micah.

“Today, he’s a compassionate, intelligent little boy who loves to read and play video games, and he won’t stop talking now which is really amazing to me as to how quickly he has advanced in just two years after reaching out to Early On for help,” she said.

The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan has agreed to include information about the importance of scheduling an Early On evaluation for children ages 0-5 in all the boxed weekend meal bags it distributes every Thursday to Flint residents at early childhood education sites, according to Kara Ross, the nonprofit’s president and CEO.

Each box contains enough food for three breakfasts and three lunches including dairy, protein, and produce for children 18 years old and under – as well as a mix of fresh and shelf-stable items. In order to reach more Flint residents with Early On’s call-to-action, the Food Bank is expanding its free weekend meal distribution program beginning Thursday, February 11, to include all Flint residents under age 18 at any of its early childhood education sites, not just students enrolled at those learning centers.

Weekend meal bags that will include Early On information cards will be distributed every Thursday from 3:30-4 p.m. starting today (Feb. 11) as supplies last at:

• Cummings Great Expectations (G-2200 Walton Ave, Flint, MI 48532)

• Early Learning Center (5575 VanCampen, Flint, 48507)

• Beecher Dailey Elementary (6236 Neff Road, Mt. Morris, 48438)

• The Learning Community (1181 West Scottwood Flint, 48507)

• Educare (1000 Gladwin St. Flint, MI 48504)

“The early evaluation services offered by GISD can change a child’s developmental path and improve outcomes for children, families, and our Flint community,” Ross said. “Our collaboration with Early On is a perfect fit in terms of our helping to get the word out about this essential program. We look forward to working with our network of partners to continue to find innovative ways to make sure that we help children, families, and seniors.”

The GISD’s Mobile Education Lab (MEL) will support the campaign at the grassroots level, said GISD Early On Intervention Services Supervisor Nicole Jason.

MEL is a school bus that has been transformed outside and in thanks to a generous grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The new high-tech, mobile resource site is designed to help meet the unique needs of students and families in Genesee County. It will travel to various sites in Flint to provide parents and caregivers an opportunity to learn more about Early On services and how to schedule an evaluation for their child.

MEL and Early On staff are scheduled to visit these Flint sites as part of the campaign launch:

• Greater Holy Temple Community Outreach Center (6702 North Dort Hwy., Flint 48505) – 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11

• Flint Farmers Market (300 East 1st St., Flint 48502) – 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18

• Hasselbring Senior Center (1002 West Home Ave., Flint 48505) – 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26

• St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center (3115 Lawndale Ave., Flint 48504) – 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, March 5. — G.G.