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Commissioners seek public input on plans to spend tobacco tax money

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Local children’s activists want Truckee parents and community members to imagine they have a magic wand.

“If you had a magic wand, or a huge amount of money to spend on children, ages 0-5, what would you do? How would you spend the money?” asked Phebe Bell, director of the Children’s Collaborative of Tahoe-Truckee.

Proposition 10, passed by California voters in November 1998, gives Nevada County approximately $850,000 a year by placing a 50-cent tax on every pack of cigarettes sold in the state. The funds are specifically earmarked to benefit children ages 0-5.

The Truckee Committee of the Children and Families First Commission was formed locally to help write the strategic plan for the county on how the monies should be spent and to seek input from local parents and community members.

The county commission will award up to $330,000 in large grants in March 2000, and a similar amount again in the fall.

Smaller grants at the $1,000 and $10,000 levels will also be available.

According to committee members, strategic plan developers, and commissioners, the grant money is flexible and unrestricted.

At least 25 percent of the Prop. 10 monies in the county will go to the Truckee area, Bell said. Nevada County is one of the first counties in the state to release Prop. 10 funds.

“It’s like the sky is the limit,” she said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our community. It’s a tremendous opportunity to do something creative and different and think out of the box. Anything could happen.”

A meeting will be held on Monday, Jan. 24, to solicit proposal ideas or input from the public.

The meeting begins at noon in the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District office boardroom on Donner Pass Road.

“There’s been pretty limited opportunity for public input,” Bell said. “This is a chance to hear from the community. We want to let people know the timing is now. It’s moving so quickly in Nevada County, this is a very small window of opportunity.”

According to Jean Soliz, director of Nevada County Children and Families First Commission, the monies are specifically targeted on the 0-5 age group for early intervention.

“What’s interesting is this is really a chance to get ahead,” Soliz said. “You read the newspapers, and children’s problems seem to be getting worse and worse across the nation.”

She said a wealth of research shows the brain is still developing during the early years; and the prenatal period and the first five years of life have a profound impact on a child’s intellectual, social and physical well-being.

“They have proven how unfinished the brain is at birth. You have all these connections going on in your brain and if you don’t use them before age 3 and age 5, they get pruned off. You must use your motor skills in the early years,” she said.

Fifty-one percent of Nevada County children are in working-parent homes. Of the children in childcare, only 24 percent are in licensed childcare.

To make sure the young people in our community have the ability to make these connections and use their motor skills, the commission wants Prop. 10 money to be used to improve the lives of children by focusing on parent education and support, childcare, early childhood education and health and wellness.

The strategic plan, developed by committees throughout the county, addresses these areas for its service goals, based on the three areas of early childhood development: intellectual, physical, and social/emotional development.

Soliz said that by focussing on the 0-5 age group, we help our children be more ready for success in school.

“The great thing about this money is it is an investment that counts, and it gets to be locally designed,” she said.

Laurie Martin, director of Community and Youth Development for Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District, is one of the county commissioners. She said it is important for people to understand that the money is there for groups, but also for individuals as well.

“Basically, anyone who would like to apply for the money and it goes along with the strategic plan, they can,” Martin said. “That’s one of our goals – to get the money out in the community and see things happening.”

Soliz said one of the things to be looked at when addressing brain development, is whether the children are getting adequate play space and exposure to reading, among other things.

The Truckee advisory committee has been looking into building a “one-stop center” for families with young children, which could include an indoor play area, classes and office space for social service agencies and perhaps childcare possibilities.

According to the committee, recent brainstorming sessions have pointed to the local need for improved affordable childcare, expanded educational and recreational opportunities for children under 5, as well as classes and outreach to help parents or caregivers understand the critical importance of the early years in a child’s development.

Parents in the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District’s class “Mommy and Me,” a parent-participation program for 2- and 3-year-olds, said that the biggest thing they would like to see in Truckee is an indoor play center.

“There’s so many needs,” Mommy and Me teacher Chris Miller said. “I’m hearing from a lot of parents there needs to be a place to go every day of the week at any time … a place where kids play and parents network. They want something to do, someplace to go on the snowy, crummy days.”

The biggest problem is the winter, said Melissa Ariza, mother of a 2-year-old son. It’s hard for parents and kids to get outside and stay active.

“Something that could be used year-round, not just for the outside, would be good,” she said.

Parent Diana Yale agrees. “There’s talk about creating this resource center and a large indoor play space. It’s important. It’s hard to get out in the winter.”

One local, centralized play and resource center was one popular suggestion on how to spend Prop. 10 monies in the community. But advisory committee members want to hear from more parents and individuals to find needs and wants and discuss all ideas.

“There’s money for informed groups and individuals that have good ideas,” Soliz said. “I’m trying to make it grass roots and available. I want to make folks who feel they don’t have experience in applying for funds feel like they can do that.”


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