The Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN), launched in Vernon and Monroe Counties, has been selected to receive the 2020 Wisconsin Top Rural Development Initiative award, one of two awards presented in 2020 by the Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc. The presentation was made at a private ceremony following the cancellation of the Wisconsin Rural Summit due to COVID-19.

With direction from and the support of Kickapoo Conversations, Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN) started serving child care providers in January of 2019, with funding from A Healthier Wisconsin (AHW) through a Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program (HWPP). Technology is used to help child care programs become more efficient and effective, and a professional development model is embedded (so required continuing education can be responsive and done onsite, reducing travel and registration expenses), and highly qualified child care substitute teacher pool – Relief Squad – is available, addressing one of the biggest needs identified by providers.

The goal of WEESSN is to reduce program closure and turnover during a time of unprecedented decline in regulated child care programs.  Specifically, WEESSN helps programs save time and money by streamlining services through technology, providing qualified substitute care, and offering site-specific needed supports. This allows child care programs to thrive, so children, families, and communities can also flourish. Additional developmental screening supports for child care programs also means healthier children.

Currently, two other communities (Dane and Milwaukee) launched regional WEESSN cohorts. Work is underway in another seven counties (Jackson, Crawford, Richland, Grant, Green, Iowa, and Lafayette) with funding made available through the Preschool Development Grant (PDG) from the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Including the Vernon-Monroe programs and the new expanded region, WEESSN will be serving 130 child care programs and more than 2000 children.

The group believes that when child care is strong and stable, communities thrive. Communities with high quality child care that is affordable and easy to access experience strong economic development because all interested parties can be in the workforce. WEESSN is a program of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA), a nonprofit 501c3 organization that advances positive change for children by focusing on the professionals who provide child care for well over 74% of Wisconsin’s youngest children.

“Wisconsin Rural Partners (WRP) recognizes the need for child care services in rural communities and applauds Kickapoo Conversations and the WEESSN program as outstanding example of the many local efforts across the state to improve the lives of citizens in rural Wisconsin,” said Sandy Decker, WRP president.  “These types of projects are notable for showcasing the variety and breadth of successful local efforts to enhance the quality of life in the rural areas of our state.”

A second project receiving recognition as a 2020 Top Rural Development Initiative awardee is the The Grantsburg Revitalization Operation (GRO).  The GRO organization was formed in the Spring of 2014 and is focusing on the renewal of Grantsburg, WI.  The efforts of GRO are multi-faceted. While working on growing community resources for a diverse population, the goal is to grow the population and provide housing for these individuals once they decide that Grantsburg is a good place to live.

Wisconsin Rural Partners (WRP) is the state’s federally designated rural development council.  Committed to improving the quality of life in rural Wisconsin, WRP is a non-partisan forum for identifying, discussing, and addressing rural issues.  Through collaborations with a wide array of partners, including local, county, state, tribal, and federal governments, as well as for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations, WRP fosters and promotes locally-based solutions to rural needs and issues.

This is the twentieth year that WRP has recognized Wisconsin’s Top Rural Development Initiatives.  “The program is designed to identify, highlight, and share innovative models, practices and programs that have a positive impact on rural Wisconsin communities,” said Errin Welty, WRP past-president.  “WRP created the program to provide a mechanism for rural communities to learn from each other and we are pleased to report that many of the award winners are still actively operating in their communities.”

Additional information about Wisconsin Rural Partners and the Top Rural Development Initiatives can be found at www.wiruralpartners.org.

Additional information about the Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network can be found at https://wisconsinearlychildhood.org/programs/weessn/ . Questions or comments about WEESSN can be shared with Kelly Matthews, WEESSN Co-director, at KMatthews@wisconsinearlychildhood.org.

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