MANISTEE — Giving children a strong preschool foundation is the proven key to sending them on to a successful academic career.
In the past several years there has been a concerted effort to see that every child gains access to a preschool opportunity. It is the reason Launch Manistee and the Great Start Collaborative have joined forces to honor those early childhood stakeholders with the Early Childhood Champion Award at the third annual Manistee Early Childhood Luncheon on Friday.
This year the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (LRBOI) were given that honor for the creation of the Next Generation Learning Center. Previous winners include the Consumers Energy Foundation and the Manistee News Advocate.
The Next Generation Learning Center will be a state-of-the-art learning center that will assist everyone in Manistee County. The center will be celebrating its opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 27.
Launch Manistee program director Mary Ann Behm said during the presentation of the award that it may have taken several years, but the LRBOI never lost sight of the goal to provide a first-class learning center for everyone in the community.
“Approximately three years ago this project began, led by LRBOI Family Services director Jason Cross and fully supported by the Ogema and tribal council,” said Behm. “Prior to this project beginning, Jason Cross started looking into problems he was seeing as a social caseworker which were housing, transportation and childcare. At the same time the tribal council had on its calendar the building of a child development center and … here we are.”
Behm said what helped make this project move forward was the mission statement that was developed for it.
“Their mission statement was ‘To create a child family development center in collaboration with area agencies and all Manistee County families,’” said Behm. “They also created a vision statement that said ‘To influence and change the lives of Manistee County residents by providing high quality child care programming and facilities for area agencies to utilize.’”
Behm said the new center will fill a niche that has been missing from Manistee County — is it will be open from 6 a.m. to midnight.
“I am going to borrow a quote from Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Ogema Larry Romanelli who said about the learning center, ‘It’s just another plus for the tribe, the community and our children,’” said Behm.
She added the time was right for it.
“The soil is rich in Manistee,” said Behm. “Three years ago a seed was planted and now it is a full grown tree.”
Cross said they are excited at the prospect of bringing this new early learning asset to the community. He said through his position he realized the need. That prompted surveys and months of research about what they could create to best meet those needs.
“What we found was a quality system had been stretched to capacity and was in need of non-traditional hours to meet the needs of numbers of those seeking financial stability within the county’s existing employer schedules,” said Cross. “We have an average birthrate of 200 children per year and 46 percent of children age 3 and 4 are not attending preschool. Manistee County annually has been sending more than 100 children to kindergarten with little or no preschool experiences.”
Cross said another problem is that many employers do not run a traditional Monday to Friday work week and parents are in need of licensed early childhood education to fit their schedule.
“These numbers clearly showed that Manistee County could support another option for parents,” said Cross. “The Next Generation Learning Center was created to be a new addition to the existing system and not an either or proposition. We believe that the Next Generation Learning Center will be the missing piece that will make Manistee County’s Early Childhood Education system one of the best in the state and a model for others to follow.”
Cross said generous support came from $872,000 in grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Consumers Energy Foundation, The Frey Foundation, LiveWell Manistee, Michigan Inter-Tribal Council, Michigan Children Trust Fund and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. He also cited the work of local community supporters that helped make it possible.
“The support letters from 13 local organizations truly demonstrated this is something the community wanted,” Cross said. “We believe we have created a dynamic community partnership.”
Romanelli added that several important things came from the project.
“Two things stand out on this and one of those is investment — what a better investment than our children,” said Romanelli. “The other is collaboration and working together. These are the things that happen when you work together.”
Behm also cited the partners in the early childhood programs at the luncheon in this area including Great Start Readiness’ Crystal Harthun (GSRP teacher), Renee Turmel (GSRP assistant), FiveCAP executive director Mary Trucks, Manistee Catholic Central preschool’s Sarah Logan (teacher), Aisha Newhouse (MCC preschool volunteer) and Great Start to Quality’s Kristina Bajtka (quality improvement specialist).
The Great Start Collaborative team of Mike Acosta, Seth Hopkins and Katie Sterk were recognized for engaging and coordinating services with community partners. Also recognized for their efforts to early childhood programs were Behm and Laura Heintzelman who of the Manistee Community Foundation executive director (who facilitate Launch Manistee funds through the foundation).
Also giving personal accounts of how they have been assisted by local early childhood programs were parents Jennifer Sprinkle, Patrick Wilson and Tina Thompson. They were presented certificates of appreciation by Hopkins for being part of the Great State Collaborative Parent Liaison group.
Posted by Ken Grabowski, Manistee News Advocate on April 7th, 2017