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Virginia Wingard Memorial United Methodist Church in Columbia has been chosen as a new site for the Early Head Start program of Richland County First Steps to School Readiness.

The program – which is expected to begin at Virginia Wingard UMC by the end of 2019 – will serve families with children up to age 3.

Rev. Smoak

“Virginia Wingard UMC is excited to partner with Richland County First Steps as we work to transform the lives of families in our community,” said the Rev. Scott Smoak, who is in his fifth year as the church’s pastor. “Our partnership breathes new life into our church and provides an avenue of hope, love and joy.

“Virginia Wingard UMC is committed to loving our neighbors and working together – creating a future of hope for families in Richland County. I’m proud of the congregation’s willingness to walk by faith and not by sight.”

Early Head Start is a comprehensive early childhood program that incorporates health, nutrition, mental health, developmental assessments, the inclusion of children with disabilities, family partnerships, and parenting education into a community-supported care environment.

The church – on Broad River Road in Columbia’s St. Andrews community – will be home to five Early Head Start classrooms following renovations that will be paid for with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The new site at Virginia Wingard UMC is part of a broader expansion of services by Richland County First Steps, which serves nearly 100 children but has 72 families on a waiting list. The program’s growth will enable First Steps to work with 53 of those waiting families.

“It’s tremendously exciting to expand services in a location that strategically fits the needs of families in Richland County,” said Tyra Jefferson, chairperson of the Early Head Start Policy Council. “Not only does the expansion provide a fresh, new layout for services, it provides the opportunity for continued growth and success to come.”

Also part of the expansion: A new classroom to meet the needs of families with infants currently on a waiting list will open soon at Ridgewood Missionary Baptist Church, an Early Head Start partner in Columbia’s Eau Claire community.

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