Mini-Grants Support Childcare Centers to Make Health-Focused Changes
A new mini-grant program is available in Wyoming to support childcare centers in creating environments that encourage healthy childhood nutrition and physical activity. The program is a result of a partnership between the Wyoming Department of Health and the University of Wyoming Extension’s Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP). Launched in summer 2022, it has funded 17 childcare centers to date and is set to open up a second round of funding in 2023.
“Building healthy habits that last a lifetime starts during childhood and childcare centers can play an integral role in establishing these habits,” says Mindy Meuli, director of CNP. “With this mini-grant program, we aim to support childcare centers in creating environments that encourage healthy childhood nutrition and physical activity practices, particularly those centers serving families with limited resources.”
Through the mini-grant program, childcare centers can apply for up to $500 to purchase materials to improve the healthy eating and physical activity practices at the center. In the first round of funding, which opened in July 2022, many of the centers applied for materials to increase physical activity to the recommended daily amount of 120 minutes for preschoolers and 60-90 minutes for toddlers.
“The students of Excel Academy, as well as the staff, are extremely delighted to have the new equipment,” reported Jennifer Winstisen, director of Excel Academy in Casper. “Our students were using riding equipment that had three good tires and one bad, trikes that were bent, Cozy Coupes with no doors, cracks etc.”
Through their mini-grant, Excel Academy received new riding toys and trikes, which have been a big hit with the kids.
Several centers also applied for materials to help support nutrition and eating practices at the center, such as family-style dining set ups, water bottles, and kitchen equipment for prepping nutritious meals.
“This mini grant improved the overall quality of my program by addressing health and nutrition areas that I had not addressed,” reported Sara Allison, director of Learning Safari Childcare in Green River. “I was able to purchase individual water bottles for each child and several large motor playsets to meet the two hours of active play goal during months that it’s too cold to play outside.”
To assist childcare centers in identifying best practices, CNP educators partner with centers to complete a checklist of recommendations from the Healthy Policies Toolkit. The Healthy Policies Toolkit was adapted and released by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, WY Quality Counts, the Wyoming Department of Health, and CNP in 2019. It is a tool of best practices for creating an environment for healthy behaviors to become established.
The checklist helps centers identify areas where they would like to make changes and guides their mini-grant application. Applications are sent to and reviewed by the CNP state office, who then purchases the requested items and sends them to centers.
“It was fast and easy to apply for, the ordering and delivery of items from the list was smooth,” Allison reported.
The second round of funding will open up in January 2023 thanks to continued funding from the Wyoming Department of Health and additional funding from the Wyoming Head Start Collaboration Office through the Wyoming Department of Education. With this funding, CNP aims to award 20-25 mini-grants to childcare centers in the state from January to September 2023. The mini-grants are open to any licensed childcare center in Wyoming. More information can be found on the CNP ECE Mini-Grant webpage.
“We are excited to connect with childcare centers and form new partnerships,” says Meuli. “This has been a successful pilot of the mini-grants and we look forward to a great second round of the program.”
Wyoming’s Cent$ible Nutrition Program serves people with limited resources through nutrition education and local partnerships that help make the healthy choice the easy choice. CNP is funded by the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Program and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. CNP is available in every Wyoming county as well as the Wind River Indian Reservation, and offers both in-person and online classes. Programming is free to those who income qualify. For more information, visit uwyocnp.org.