Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

No more squeaky floors, rusty playground equipment and floppy eared books for young children in Del Norte County.

Thanks to more than $200,000 in grants and the direction of Patti Vernelson of the local Children and Families Commission, services for children are getting a major boost.

Even in light of all the bad news here recently, the truth is, we do have resources. It isnt government as usual and money really is going out into the community, Vernelson said.

Here less than two years, the commission works to pump tobacco tax money into local facilities and programs geared to children less than five years of age.

Last week, the commission announced the Del Norte County Library and 14 other organizations will receive thousands of dollars each to bolster their facilities and services.

The biggest winner was the childrens section of the library.

With $45,000, a 10-foot puppet show stage, professional puppets, 700 hard-paged books, repaired floors, expanded windows for more natural light, child-sized tables and chairs and a computer room just for children will make the librarys childrens section better than it has ever been.

Librarian Liz McCumsey got the idea for the puppet theater from Humboldt Countys library.

We cant equal them in size, but maybe we can beat them in quality, she said.

The plan is to use the space now saddled with used magazines to expand the childrens area and to convert a small side room used for a kitchen area for the enclosed puppet theater.

This is an important special initiative, as the library currently has no services for very young children, Vernelson said.

Del Norte County ranks at the bottom of Californias 56 counties for preschool programs offered by public libraries.

Other large grants will go to Sutter Coast Hospital, providing equipment to screen infants hearing.

The program will identify newborns and infants with hearing problems and provide them with ongoing monitoring and communication development.

Vernelson said when hearing problems arent identified early on, learning to speak and read are more difficult.

The remaining money was distributed for specific equipment and programs to the following organizations:

Yurok Tribe-Education Department, $11,688 for safe, age appropriate playground equipment.

Discoveryland Preschool, $16,503 for safe playground equipment.

Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness (DNACA), $47,000 over two years for arts, story telling, dance and music programs for pre-schoolers.

Del Norte Community Health Center, $38,000 for many community outreach programs geared toward dental health and prevention of health problems.

Del Norte County Unified School District, $12,000 to train preschool teachers in nutrition and dental care for students.

Del Norte Reading Council, $5,000 for books for children and educating parents in the importance of reading to children.

Grace Lutheran Preschool, $5,000 to upgrade play equipment.

Elk Valley Rancheria Head Start, $5,000 for play equipment and landscaping.

Klamath Community Center, $5,000 for parent education and support for early child care.

Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness, $5,000 to offer free performances by singers and songwriters.

Northcoast Childrens Services, $4,523 for equipment for Pine Grove School and the Early Headstart playgroups.

Two Trees Healthy Start, $5,000 for lice screening and treatment.

Joe Hamilton Elementary School, $4,531 for parent education and early literacy education.

Vernelson said historically, children not yet school age are not reached by community programs. Yet the period of birth to age 5 is the most crucial time for brain development and for establishing good health, she said.

Teaching parents how to stimulate young minds and provide proper nutrition is the central mission of the Children and Families Commission.

We track kids when they get to school, but the younger ones we have no idea about. These grants will help us reach out to these children in our own community, Vernelson said.