First Chance for Children provides programs and services to help families succeed.
Being a new parent is not easy — and that’s why First Chance for Children is here to help families in Mid-Missouri. From providing diapers to offering educational programs, the local nonprofit exists to help entire families be successful at parenting. When caregivers are given the resources they need to succeed, their children and our community benefit.
“We serve all of Mid-Missouri to help children get ready for kindergarten by reducing some of the most common barriers families have,” says Kasey Hammock, executive director of First Chance for Children. “That could be basic needs like having a safe place to sleep or knowing what on-track development looks like. We provide parenting support and community for parents of young children.”
Abby Owen, vice president for the First Chance Board of Directors, first became familiar with the organization as a new parent herself, discovering what a great resource the Lend and Learn library could be for herself and her infant. “Until I had a child, I didn’t know everything that goes into it, mentally and physically,” she says. “I’m so passionate about First Chance for Children and the unique programs it provides for families with young children.”
Serving Children and Families
First Chance for Children grew out of a group of community organizations and partners who came together to study kindergarten readiness, creating a group called Boone Early Childhood Partners in 2002. The organization started doing research on indicators for kindergarten readiness, and out of that research came the goal to start providing resources. In 2006, the organization became First Chance for Children, reflecting the goal to provide direct services to families in addition to advocacy and information about kindergarten readiness.
Today, First Chance reaches nine counties in Mid-Missouri and grows every year; in the past year, they served more than 1,000 families. Their four primary programs, ranging from basic needs support to educational programs, serve families with children under the age of 5.
With its Baby Bags Diaper Bank program, First Chance provides diapers, wipes, and hygiene items to families. Items are available at the First Chance office or through one of their partner programs, and families can pick up items once a month. “One in three families in a research study were shown to not have enough diapers,” Kasey says. “98 percent of the families we serve say that without the service, they wouldn’t have enough diapers for their child. By addressing the health needs of young children, as well as helping to reduce stress and anxiety for parents, we are helping the entire family achieve better success.”
Their second basic needs program is Safe Cribs, which provides a pack-and-play crib for any infant who doesn’t have a safe space to sleep. In addition to the crib, the program supports parents through the first months of parenting by providing information and community support. “We try to help make those first few months a little easier,” says Kasey.
Baby U is a home visiting program supporting caregivers that is tailored to each family’s specific needs. Serving families from prenatal development to the age of 5, it uses a home visitation model that blends the Parents As Teachers and Nurturing Parenting programs. “We operate from the fundamental belief that every parent is the expert in their own lives and situations, and we are there to support them in whatever skills and education they say they need,” Kasey says. “We walk alongside them in their parenting journey to be their research assistants and their connection to the broader community, if they need that.”
The Lend and Learn library is a popular program for all families, regardless of where they live, and designed for caregivers and children through age 5. A free, fun space located at First Chance’s Fay Street location, the library has toys available for check out and provides an opportunity for caregivers to connect. It’s here where Abby, as a new mom, first met other caregivers and new moms. “I was so grateful for the space,” she says.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the library has evolved, moving outside to different community parks to bring everyone together in a safe environment. “Especially in the last couple of months, we have seen the need for Lend and Learn grow,” says Kasey. “We’ve had 50 to 60 families show up for our pop-up and play events each week. Families are desperate to get outside and connect with other parents and find a fun opportunity for their kids.”
Helping More Families Succeed
As they look to the future, First Chance for Children is focused on their strategic plan. Central to their growth and mission is a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. “Regardless of your income, race, or gender expression, we want to be there for all families, particularly those who have been historically underserved. It’s our mission to decrease some of those lifelong disparities,” says Kasey.
Kasey describes hearing stories almost daily about how First Chance has touched a family. “The first response we receive is ‘thank you’ from families who don’t realize how much they need that specific service until they start participating,” she says. “On our team side, we hear how much they learn from families and how powerful it is that families are allowing us into their lives and their parenting journeys.”
And when families win, we all win as a community.
“By providing these programs directly to families, we are creating a viable workforce for our next generation,” Kasey says. “We are helping to break barriers that cause generational poverty. We are helping build a stronger, smarter, healthier community that can make Columbia and the broader community a great place to work, play, and live.”
First Chance for Children
1002 Fay St.
First Chance for Children provides early childhood programs and family resources to foster healthy outcomes for children and families in Mid-Missouri.
Board of Directors:
Jeremy Milarsky, President
Jennifer Barth, Past President
Abby Owen, Vice President
Chuck Bowman, Treasurer
Melissa Miller, Secretary
Leigh Ann Clayton