helps turn dream into reality at Onekama Leaps and Bounds program
Manistee News Advocate Associate Editor
ONEKAMA -- One of the many lessons that
Onekama Consolidated Schools Leaps and Bounds Early Childhood
Education Director Amy Brown teaches the children that take part in
her program is that teamwork can make good things happen for
It is ironic that the same philosophy came into play when she sought
out her dream to get a new playground for the Leaps and Bounds Early
Childhood children. However, this time it was adults who were on the
learning end of that important philosophy when teamwork helped the
center receive a $50,000 grant United States Rural Development
Association (USDA) Child Care Grant Initiative Program.
USDA Rural Development Director for Michigan James Turner was at the
Onekama Consolidated Schools on Thursday along with representatives
of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to
mark the completion of this project. They were joined by Onekama
Consolidated Schools officials and parents to officially dedicate
the new playground.
The grant was written by former Onekama Schools teacher Megan
McCarthy who has had four of her own children take part in the Early
Childhood Education program. McCarthy said to view it in its
completion is something that made it all worthwhile for her and the
others who helped make it happen. "It is incredibly fulfilling to
see this project in all its stages and to see it at completion,"
“I think Leaps
and Bounds is a phenomenal program. Our family has experienced its
benefits first hand, as we have four daughters that went through the
program. We currently have one in the infant program, one in the
pre-school and two in the after school program, and it personally
makes me feel good to give back to program that has given so much to
“A lot of credit goes to Amy Brown, who has the vision for what her
program needed, and I was glad to be able to help to make it a
Onekama Superintendent Kevin Hughes said the whole process began
years ago when they first began planning an addition on to their
school building. He said, thanks to the additional grant funds, they
were able to enhance the design their building.
“We had a vision for a long time to build a new building for Leaps
and Bounds, and it was part of former superintendent Beth McCarthy’s
plan,” said Hughes. “Luckily in the planning process, Megan McCarthy
offered to write a grant and come to our meeting and made some
contacts. We were able to work with the architect to infuse that
money right into the project, and use it as an enhancement to what
the local taxpayers paid for in the bond.
“We were very fortunate and sometimes a plan comes together, and
this is a good example of it. You don’t want a grant for something
you don’t need as you want one that dove tails on your current
Brown thanked both McCarthy and the USDA officials for all their
help and assistance in turning her dream into a reality.
“Megan McCarthy is the key person in this whole thing, and we
wouldn’t have this if it wasn’t for her,” said Brown. “She is one of
our biggest supporters, and we appreciate everything she has done
for our program. I also want to thank the USDA for this opportunity
and I feel so privileged for being a part of this as I have been
with the program for 10 years now and this is my dream.”
The Onekama Consolidated
Schools Leaps and Bounds Early Childhood Education program received
a $50,000 United States Department of Agriculture Child Care
Initiative program grant. Program director Amy Brown is shown with
USDA director for Michigan James Turner in the front dedicating the
playground that was purchased with the funds. Shown left to right
are Onekama Superintendent Kevin Hughes, Gabriel Schneider (Sen.
Carl Levin’s office), Megan McCarthy (grant writer), Blake Smith
(USDA), Kristin Mauntler (finance director business cooperative),
Brandon Fewins (Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office), Michele Larson
(grant coordinator), and Leslie Acton (Onekama School Board member).
“Every one of our applicants have to have
teamwork on these things, and this is extra duties that go on above and
beyond your normal activities on a daily basis,” said Smith. “So it goes
to everyone on the team to make a success.”
The state director agreed with that assessment, and said it really is
the children that will benefit in Onekama from the effort.
“It is a good thing and what is really
important about it is it gives children an opportunity to be active and
we have coupled it with another program at the school called farm to
school,” said Turner.
The Farm to School program is where locally grown products are purchased
from area farmers through a USDA program and go directly to the school
lunch programs at participating schools like Onekama.
“The way Kevin (Hughes) puts it is we go from a heat and serve lunch to
a cut and cook meal. So the kids are getting a better diet and more
exercise through what we have done here and hopefully that will result
in more productive lives.”
Gabriel Schneider from Levin’s office said he and the senator are happy
to see funds being returned to the Michigan taxpayers through projects
of this nature.
“It is really a great project and good to
see that federal funding coming back to Michigan,” said Schneider.
“Ultimately we all send our tax dollars to Washington and we expect
something in return and here we have something in return. It is really
important to do that because early childhood is an investment in the
Stabenow’s representative, Brandon Fewins ,said he can relate well to
“My wife and I are going through the daycare process and this would be
one heck of a place to take our kids,” said Fewins. “Senator Stabenow
serves on the senate agriculture committee which oversees the USDA that
does a great job on behalf of our state and we thank them as well.”
Funds from the grant were also used for several other things at the
school like a climbing wall and things within the Leaps and Bounds
However, the real winners in this “team effort” are the children of the
Leaps and Bounds program that will be enjoying that playground equipment
for many years into the future.