2015 Grantee Partners

Persistence Plus Help from The Women’s Fund and Smart Start Bring Child Care Director Closer to Goal

Sharon Pinkney has, as she puts it, a “heart for children.” For years this mother of four and grandmother of nine has devoted her personal and professional life to the welfare of young people. In 2002, Pinkney fulfilled her longtime dream, opening a licensed child care center at her home in Germanton. Eight years later, she moved the business to a new site in Winston-Salem and changed the name to Kidz Zone Learning Center. Now, Pinkney and her staff — two teachers, three assistants/floaters, and a driver — serve an average of 28 youngsters a day, aged one to 12 years. Most client families are low-income and receive vouchers toward child care costs.

Pinkney, 53, has not let age deter her from her career pursuits. Cheryl Young, the accounting/provider educational scholarship specialist at Smart Start of Forsyth, said, “Through sheer perseverance, Sharon has managed to earn her associates degree and is about halfway through her bachelor’s degree.” Since receiving her degree in early childhood/teaching education from Forsyth Tech, Pinkney has relentlessly built on her academic credentials. She’s completed 24 courses at Forsyth Tech and 13 at Winston-Salem State University. She proudly refers to her GPA, to date, of 3.25.

It would have been impossible, Pinkney said, to pay for these classes if she hadn’t discovered Smart Start of Forsyth County’s Child Care Professional Educational Financial Aid Program and its “Wage$” program. The first program pays for textbooks and 75 percent of course fees for eligible child-care professionals attending designated schools. Wage$ supplements salaries of qualifying child care providers and staff who earn academic credits.

In the child care arena, education is key. A more educated staff translates into higher quality care to children, and, often, better outcomes. It also increases a facility’s chance of receiving a higher “star” rating, a quality measurement by the N.C. Division of Child Development. Ratings are from 0 to 5, with five stars denoting excellence.

At her home based day care, Pinkney was able to earn an impressive four-star rating, thanks in part to the courses she’d taken. But after moving to the current location, she had to sacrifice those stars and begin again. Undeterred, Pinkney worked tirelessly to regain her former status.

Around that time, Smart Start, faced with state budget cuts, had applied for and received a $15,000 grant from The Women’s Fund to supplement its 2012 Financial Aid program. The grant enabled Pinkney to receive another scholarship to cover costs for three courses at Winston-Salem State University, putting her closer to a bachelor’s degree and her facility closer to another star. The grant money also allowed 15 other women, most of them low-income, to receive scholarships, at an average of $934 a student.

Pinkney is extremely grateful to The Women’s Fund for empowering the Smart Start program. “I have a lot of overhead in my business,” she said. “Without the scholarship, I would not have been able to go to school.” Kidz Zone is now up to three stars, and Pinkney is aiming to get four by the summer.

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