Teamwork builds success

USDA grant helps turn dream into reality at Onekama Leaps and Bounds program

Manistee News Advocate Associate Editor
Published: Friday, October 22, 2010
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 everyone.

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," said McCarthy.

“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 my family.

“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 reality.”

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 needs.”

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 community.

 Stabenow’s representative, Brandon Fewins ,said he can relate well to this project.

“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 room.

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.

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