BLACK TIE: Orange County organization places emphasis on accessibility to early learning
In just a few days, the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County will host its biggest fundraiser of the year at the most magical place on Earth — Walt Disney World Resort’s EPCOT World Showplace Pavilion.
But the real magic at The First Five Years Gala will happen as attendees and community members gather and reach into their pockets to support local children’s opportunities to play, learn and grow.
EARLY LEARNING COALITION
ELCOC’s vision is that all Orange County children will be fully prepared to enter school ready to learn. According to its website, it aims to accomplish that by providing “unified leadership, support and guidance to ensure that the children of our community have the opportunity to reap the benefits of developmentally appropriate, research-based early-childhood programs, respecting the role of the parent as their child’s first teacher.”
To do this, ELCOC offers family, child and provider services, which fit together like puzzle pieces to ensure each party involved in a child’s early education is receiving the necessary resources.
“All families are under increasing strain; disadvantaged families are strained to the limit,” ELCOC’s website states. “They have fewer resources to invest in effective early-childhood development. Without resources provided by ELCOC such as School Readiness funding, parent coaching and early-childhood education programs, many at-risk children miss the developmental growth that is the foundation for success. … We work in partnership with parents, child-care providers and community stakeholders to build a strong foundation for our most precious commodity … our children.”
According to ELCOC, when a child’s parents are involved in the learning and place them in a strong, responsive early-childhood program, the children have a better chance at the following: being developmentally on track, reading on grade level by the third grade, graduating high school, attending higher education and becoming an engaged and productive citizen.
Orange County families all have access to Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) services through ELCOC. This gives families referrals that allow them to connect with child-care providers for their infants, preschoolers and school-age children.
Through Florida’s Early Learning Family Portal, parents can find information about early-learning programs. Florida’s School Readiness Program offers financial assistance to eligible low-income families for early education, and these services are based on individual needs ranging from extended day care to after-school and school-age care.
Additionally, families can take advantage in Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program (VPK), which prepares 4-year-olds for kindergarten.
For early-childhood education providers, ELCOC offers the Early Learning Coalition’s Birth to Five Quality Enhancement Campaign. Support services offered through this campaign are available to all funded providers to assist with quality enhancements, such as free curriculum training, extensive professional-development training and Gold Seal accreditation.
The end goal is to ensure that all funded providers deliver high-quality early care and education programs to children and families, and to create seamless access to training and onsite support services in order to meet the minimum quality standards set by ELCOC.
FOR THE KIDS
Eighty-two percent of ELCOC’s budget goes toward direct services for children and families. Six percent is earmarked for quality services, 4% is for administrative activities and 3% goes toward non-direct services and outreach.
“Early childhood is one of the most critical periods of time for everybody,” said Karen Willis, CEO of ELCOC. “During the first five years of a child’s life, 90% of the brain’s architecture is created, and that’s the foundation of the rest of our learning as young people and as adults. Starting young and starting early is absolutely critical if we are going to make sure that that brain architecture is as strong as it can possibly be. When you change the first five years, you change everything.”
During the gala, ELCOC will honor Linda Landman Gonzalez, the organization’s vice president of social responsibility and also the president of the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation. The night also comes with a variety of opportunities to give, including a Love of Learning Sweepstakes with a $10,000 grand prize and the Fund-A-Child program. And for every dollar raised, the federal government matches $15.67.
There are 2,000 days from birth to kindergarten, and ELCOC believes there isn’t a day to be wasted. Whether the organization helps facilitate access to funding, childcare, school readiness or VPK programs, the end goal is the same: To change the future of Orange County.