KLAMATH, Calif. – The Yurok Tribe has received a $1 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to operate an Early Head Start program, a first-ever venture for California’s largest tribe.
“The Early Head Start will allow us to provide crucial services, like prenatal care, to families who have or are expecting children,” said Jim McQuillen, the tribe’s education director and a licensed family therapist. “From conception to three years old is such a critical time in a child’s development. We are beyond elated to be able to reach out to those families and their children because parents need the additional support to help build a strong foundation within our little ones.”
The Early Head Start program will provide services to parents with children 0 to 3 years of age and be based at the tribe’s new Head Start building in Klamath.
The federal grant will allow the tribe to serve families to the south and east of the reservation, where childcare and parenting educational resources have been virtually nonexistent. Many homes on the eastern or upper part of the reservation are still without electricity and residents have to travel 25 miles to the nearest large food market.
Newly trained tribal employees will now be able to visit tribal member parents once a week to help meet family needs. As many as five times per month, prenatal groups will meet to talk about parenting and get to know and support one another.
“We say Crescent City and Klamath are remote. The upper Yurok Reservation gives a whole different meaning to remote,” McQuillen said.
The tribe has been trying to open an early childcare facility since it moved its base from Eureka to Klamath in 1994. Past surveys of tribal members indicate that an Early Head Start is a pressing need.
“I feel that we have not been able to help the neediest of children and families. This gives us that opportunity,” said Dana Miguelena, the tribe’s Head Start director.
Some of the services include prenatal care, birthing classes, health and nutrition classes, childcare, linkage to other needed services, and Yurok cultural education. There are many parents in the service areas that do not have any access to childcare, which severely limits their ability to work full-time or extend their education.
“Parents need a place that’s safe and provides enrichment for their children,” McQuillen said.
The tribe also plans to have Yurok language immersion classes at the Early Head Start building as well as Yurok language lessons in the south and the east areas.
“Our goal is to have classes that teach Yurok first and then English,” Miguelena said. While the Early Head Start is open to all ethnic groups with children up to to 3, there is a preference for low income families, Yurok tribal member families, special needs children and homeless families.
The Early Head Start will also create as many as 20 jobs in Del Norte and Humboldt Counties, both on and off the Yurok Reservation.
“This is going to mean new employment opportunities for community members who have a passion to work with small children and families,” said Yurok Chairman Thomas O’Rourke Sr., in response to the grant award.