A community's certification lasts for three years and it has to meet specific requirements before it is certified "child friendly."
Cleveland was one of the first Delta communities that certified by Excel By 5 and according to Certification Manager Patsy Clerk, the Cleveland Coalition estimates that the city will be certified by May 2014.
"When a community is ‘child friendly’ certified, it means that the community has a support system that provides excellent child care services. It is definitely an honorable recognition for a community to be certified as child friendly. It is important for a community to have a system in place that supports families and children," Clerk said.
"The Cleveland Coalition partners with our Head Start centers, private centers and public schools. We come together to find out what the community is lacking and we try to meet the needs of the community," she added.
In order for a community to qualify, it has to host various community wide events and workshops that focus on school readiness, health issues and family support.
The coalition uses surveys to aid with planning events and workshops.
Clerk said that the Cleveland Coalition recruits volunteers under four areas of focus for Excel By 5. They are community involvement, family and parent support, early care and education, and health.
Coalition members administer surveys to individuals in their various focus areas to aid in targeting the needs of the community.
"We analyze the surveys and we try to focus on the top three needs from each survey under each area of focus and then plan events that place emphasis on the needs of our citizens," said Clerk.
"For an example, we have a statewide problem with obesity so we host events such as softball in the park and in February, we do Baskets for Obesity," she added.
According to Sites Coordinator Mechelle Wallace, Cleveland is the only certified child friendly community and the towns of Alligator, Duncan, Beulah and Gunnison are currently candidate communities.
"For a community to be certified ‘child friendly’ is very essential for the growth and further development. A ‘child friendly’ certified community could attract individuals who are looking to start a business in certain communities. If people have children, before they move into a community they want to know whether or not the community is safe for their children and they want to know about the schools," said Wallace.
According to Cleveland Coalition member Bolivar County Sheriff Kelvin Williams, before he moved to Cleveland he was definitely in search of a community that would be safe for his children.
"Cleveland has some of the best public and private schools in the state and I feel that my children will benefit greatly from growing up in a community such as this. Being a father of three and being raised by a single mom, I feel that parental and community involvement is a great tool that contributes to a child's success," said Williams.
Excel By 5 is a community-based certification designed to improve a child's overall well being by age five.
It is the first-of-its-kind in the United States; this program emphasizes the important roles communities play in educating their children during their most formative years — birth to five.
For more information about Excel By 5, visit www.excelby5.com.