First 5 Del Norte’s anniversary celebration will have all the trappings of the best kids’ party ever — bounce houses, party favors, a photo booth and cake.

Though the party won’t take place until March 16, the independent county agency is looking back on two decades of partnerships and programs to create a holistic approach to serving the county’s youngest citizens, their caregivers and siblings. Local First 5 Executive Director Angela Glore also anticipates a future with more constraints on funding, including changes to programs the agency is able to offer, and says First 5s statewide will take a more behind the scenes approach to serving 0-5 year olds.

“We just won’t have the dollars for programming anymore, so we’re moving more into doing sort of advocacy work,” Glore said. “I go to a lot of meetings because it’s important to have a voice there for 0-5 and oftentimes I’m really the only voice for 0-5 year olds at the table. It’s not that people are talking against them but there’s nobody there whose job is to say and how are you thinking about the youngest children here?”

First 5 county commissions were created when California voters passed Proposition 10, the Children and Families Act of 1998. This tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products provides funding for early childhood development programs and created First 5 commissions in each of the state’s 58 counties as well as First 5 California. First 5 California initiates and funds early childhood development projects statewide, conducts research and sponsors media and public education campaigns, according to the First 5 Association of California.

According to former county supervisor David Finigan, who was one of the founding commissioners for First 5 Del Norte, First 5s could be operated through the county or could consist of a separate governing body. The local commission chose to operate with a different board of directors, he said, adding the first commissioners included Phil Freneau, an early childhood education professor from College of the Redwoods, and Hilda Ypres Contreras, who is currently at Open Door Clinic.

First 5 Del Norte’s first executive director was Patti Vernelson, Finigan said.

“One of the first things we decided was the only way to accomplish stuff was through partnerships,” Finigan said.

One of the commission’s primary goals was establishing a family resource center, Finigan said. This included housing First 5 in the original wellness center, a rented room at the Del Norte County Library and a partnership with the Area 1 Agency on Aging, he said.

But, Finigan said, First 5 Del Norte recognized that while the commission served 0-5 year olds, “you didn’t just appear in the womb and you didn’t fall off the face of the earth when you turn 5.”

“You had parents and you had siblings,” he said. “We took a more holistic approach and we stretched the boundaries as much as we could with the Family Resource Center. We had the initiative to go out and find funding and create our own building there.”

The Del Norte Family Resource Center at 494 Pacific Ave. was dedicated in 2008. In a Feb. 29, 2008 article, the Triplicate reported the facility was established at the old Pacific Market with $300,000 from the California Endowment. The California Nations Indian Gaming Association also provided a grant for furniture and playground equipment, the Triplicate reported.

Partnerships has been the hallmark of the local First 5 program throughout its two decades in Del Norte County. The Wonder Bus was created through a partnership with the Del Norte County Library. The agency also partnered with the Del Norte Child Care Council, social services, the Del Norte Senior Center.

“We’d go away to programs or symposiums and I was always good at stealing somebody else’s idea and bringing it back and making it work for us,” Finigan said. “Always it was those partnerships and planning and stretching the limit of who we could serve to be really inclusive. Fortunately we had a great group that wanted to do the same.”

However, the Proposition 10 tax revenue that has funded First 5 commissions statewide have dwindled as fewer people use tobacco and smoke cigarettes. According to Glore, since Del Norte is one of the smallest counties in the state, its First 5 commission gets extra funding through a Small Population County Augmentation grant.

For the last 10 years, First 5 Del Norte received $425,000 a year from First 5 California, according to Glore. Last year, about $165,000 of that came from Proposition 10 funds, while the rest of the local program’s funding came from the Small Population Augmentation grant, she said.

“The problem with that is that SPCFA, because it’s First 5 California money, not our money, they can put whatever strings they want on it, and they do,” Glore said. “For instance, for years the Wonder Bus was on the SPCFA side of our budget and we can’t do that anymore because it’s not an evidence-based program and we can only use that money on evidence-based programs.”

The Wonder Bus is currently funded through First 5 Del Norte’s Proposition 10 funds, but with Proposition 10 funds decreasing, keeping the program going is hard to do, Glore said. She said there are fewer things First 5 Del Norte can fund using its Small Population Augmentation grant dollars, including administrative costs.

“One of the things that means is that we’re one piece of paper away from being able to offer the Dolly Parton Imagination Library here,” she said, “That is an evidence-based literacy program. I don’t think the Wonder Bus is going to disappear from the community. We have things in the works for that, which I hope to probably be able to talk about soon.”

In the three years that she has been First 5 Del Norte’s executive director, Glore said the program’s major accomplishment was seeing the Del Norte Family Resource Center become the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods. First 5 has also had a key role in the 3 Read ‘23 initiative, the countywide push to get every third-grader in the county reading at grade level by 2023.

In the future, Glore said she also sees First 5 Del Norte as taking on a supportive role to other people’s work that benefits young kids. She said she worked on a grant with First 5 Humboldt that, while it won’t benefit First 5 Del Norte, will benefit local parents and babies.

Glore has also offered her services as a grant writer for county departments pursuing funding for programs that will benefit 0-5 year olds.

“If it’s a win for 0-5 year olds, it’s a win for First 5s across the state whether we get a penny or not,” she said.

Glore said First 5 commissions statewide were also in support of another tobacco tax intended to fund MediCal expansion for children because “that’s a win for First 5.”

“It’s a win because it’s a win for kids,” she said. “Our goal is that children are supported. It’s not about the organization, it’s about the children. Always.”

First 5 Del Norte’s 20th anniversary bash will be held at 11 a.m. March 16 at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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