Citizen Spotlight: Janice Edgerton

It is never too early to hand a book to a child and watch them as they begin to read the pages, opening their minds to the wonders of words. At their earliest stages of life, childhood should be when the words on a page of a book capture their imagination. Not one child should have to miss the chance to learn or even have an education.

What does education mean to Region A Partnership for Children?

“…We think about education as a continuum that starts there [early childhood] and goes on and beyond graduation from the university and goes on and on and on…” said Janice Edgerton, executive director of RAPC.

She stated that the purpose and mission of this non-profit organization is “to ensure that all children have opportunities to be successful and to improve the quality of life for young children…”

Talk about a fulfilling and rewarding job to have. In order to make a difference and help abused children and even adults, Edgerton graduated from college and immediately got into this field of work in the early 80s. All her life she worked with children and families, different areas of child services, protected services, childcare services, and counseling with these children and adults.

She said, “I always had a dream that someday I would work in the world of prevention” and made it apparent throughout the entire interview.

Fourteen years ago, Edgerton moved to Sylva after she familiarized herself with Smart Start. While living in Chatham County, she heard about the Smart Start effort, which is a statewide early childhood initiative. It was an organization to prepare young children to be successful in all aspects of life.

RAPC was founded in 1994, when Smart Start became an early childhood initiative. It is within the seven counties of Western North Carolina, which would include Region A: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, and the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Smart Start is a statewide program.

“Programs we operate in Region A have partnerships,” Edgerton said.

There are several programs within RAPC. Some of these programs include Parents A’s Teachers, which is a home-visiting program where trained educators go and visit families in their homes, talking about young children and how to support their development, and Childcare Health Consultants, who are nurses that go to healthcare programs to make sure children have the best healthcare developments in the classrooms.

There are also literacy programs, where physicians in doctor’s offices are giving books to families when their kids are visiting for an appointment. Reading Rover goes to childcare centers and brings new reading materials for the kids and for their classrooms. On a side note, some of the Western Carolina University’s sororities and fraternities helped with an event on Nov. 2, at Jack the Dipper to promote awareness of this cause and endorsing how to get more involved with volunteering with RAPC and Smart Start.

Programs such as childcare providers, which help with keeping the quality in classrooms, help with additional salary for supplements needed. In addition, programs with childcare providers help the parents who cannot afford childcare.

When asked what is rewarding about her job, Edgerton stated, “What’s rewarding about it is that we are able to provide those opportunities for young children at their most impressionable time of life. . .also rewarding is that so many people are working so closely together and [I] get to be a part of that…”

She feels honored to be a part of that effort and continues to strive for ways to help reach out and make awareness.

RAPC is non-profit because it is privately funded and publicly funded, which means the public and legislation needs to be made aware of what is going on and what the needs of the public are.

“Because a lot of our programs are legislatively allocated, which means we have to make sure our supporters understand the work that we do and why it’s important,” Edgerton said.

Getting support from public and the legislators, along with getting the funds needed to continue with the organization seems to be one of the challenges that they face. They are always coming up with ways to work for additional funds and raise awareness.

The importance of this organization can be noticed when Edgerton answered after being asked about the partial government shut down.

When asked about the government shut down, she answered, “…[It] was very significant in our region because it threatened many of our partners who provide services to young children…when the government shut down all federal funding were done.”

There was a mixture of anxiety flowing around because childcare providers were trying to figure out whether they should stay opened or not, some actually temporarily closed, which left families with no childcare for one week.

One event that occurred was the fact that the stated stopped the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, which meant the health departments did not have formula for infants. The communities were scrambling to figure out how to afford formula to feed those little mouths. Fortunately, it reopened and that took care of that program fairly quickly. However, it does not take that long to “throw families into a pretty big tail spin,” Edgerton said.

If anyone is interested in helping out, there will definitely continue to be more volunteer involvement. RAPC is excited to start this new adventure and partnership with Western Carolina.

Edgerton said, “There will be a lot of possibilities networking with volunteers. We are excited to have an expanded work or expanded partnership with Western and with students. We are looking forward to being more involved than we have been in the past.”

They have already set meetings with the Service Learning Center on campus to begin this journey together and getting students interested.

Edgerton will continue to strive forward and connect students from Western Carolina with volunteer work available at RAPC, while receiving the many rewarding moments of working in the career area she chose to live her life doing. She also enjoys hiking, listening to audible books and making jewelry out of beads in her free time.