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Jacque Penick, Verner Center for Early Learning’s executive director, is retiring, the center has announced.

Verner Center is a nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive early care and education to children birth to five years old throughout Buncombe County.

Penick’s retirement will bring to a close a 45-year career of public service in North Carolina. Penick has provided leadership to the Verner Center for 14 years, working with the vision of Margaret “Danny” Verner to ensure that children receive the best care and education possible.

“Jacque has provided steady leadership and has managed this organization through both challenging and exciting times, always with a view toward providing quality service to children of all backgrounds in need of high-quality early childhood education,” said Heather Norton, Verner’s board of directors president.

During Penick’s tenure as executive director, Verner (formerly known as Mountain Area Child and Family Center) has reached out to serve an ever-increasing number of children and their families, from about 80 to 313 last year. Over 80 percent of children served come from low-income families or those living below the federal poverty line.

Penick built upon Mrs. Verner’s vision by adding specialized programs over the years, such as “Rainbow in My Tummy,” Mothers on the Move (MOMS) and the Verner Experiential Garden (VEG!).

Rainbow in My Tummy has ensured that children at Verner and other centers in Buncombe County receive nutritious food for their meals and snacks, reducing salt and sugar and avoiding trans fats.

The Mothers on the Move (MOMs) program has enabled mothers to receive support, referrals for services, tutoring and English as a second or other language classes to help them complete their education and advance their careers. The VEG! program enables children to plant seeds, work in the garden, harvest food and learn where their food comes from.

Penick was able to expand the number of children served through the receipt of a second Early Head Start grant award. The expansion has included a partnership with YWCA of Asheville and Asheville City Schools, increasing the overall number of children served by Verner from 200 to 313 last year. Established by the reauthorization of the Head Start Act in 1994, Early Head Start provides comprehensive child development and family support services to low-income infants and toddlers, pregnant women and their families. The principles are designed to nurture healthy attachments between parent and child, emphasize a strengths-based, relationship-centered approach to services, and encompass the full range of a family’s needs from pregnancy through a child’s third birthday.

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