The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has great expectations of today’s youth.
The Winston-Salem-based Trust – created in 1947 by the will of R.J. Reynolds heir Katherine Bitting Reynolds to improve the health and quality of life of the state’s financially needy – will invest $30 million over the next decade in a program designed to help Forsyth County youngsters excel.
“We’re making a huge investment and a huge commitment, conception through kindergarten,” said Karen McNeil-Miller, president of KBR. “The research just continues to be overwhelming that if children can get off in the developmental years and in the first school years to success, it changes the trajectory for their school years and their lives.”
The Great Expectations initiative kicked off recently with the awarding of a $202,000 grant to pre-k and kindergarten teachers at Equity Plus and Title One-designated schools.
In addition to covering membership dues to the North Carolina Association of the Education of Young Children for teachers and principals, the money includes a $200 per classroom stipend to cover the out of pocket expenses that many teachers incur in trying to provide materials and supplies for their students, and $1,000 per classroom to invest in developmentally appropriate materials as the teachers see fit.
The Trust deliberately made the grants to the individual teachers, so each teacher can fill the needs that he or she feels are most pressing, McNeil-Miller said.
“We want the teachers to have complete control over those funds,” she stated. “We just want to give them money because we know this money will be well spent.”
The school system is just one of the agencies that Great Expectations is partnering with. Others include the Family Nursing Program and Reach Out and Read, which targets low income mothers of babies and infants, and early childhood development centers.
The Nurse Family Partnership, a community healthcare program for low income, first-time mothers, was awarded a $2.5 million five-year grant from the Trust last year, before the inception of Great Expectations. The Partnership, which now falls under the Great Expectations umbrella, sends out nurses to make monthly in-home visits with mothers and their babies until the infant’s second birthday. The Reach Out and Read program, which has been awarded a $49,500 Trust grant, develops babies and toddlers’ vocabularies by providing a series of books for their mothers to read to them during the crucial early years of their mental development.
Funds from the initiative are helping these partners to enhance programs that foster intellectual growth and development before children reach kindergarten, according to Crocker, who as director of the Trust’s Poor & Needy Division, oversees Great Expectations.
“There is much research around the benefits of investing in early childhood education,” said Crocker. “…Great Expectations just sets the stage for the expectations of these children that we’re going to invest in, that they will continue to succeed and be well in life.”
Trust leaders believe strongly that Great Expectations has the potential to make a tangible impact on the quality of life and future of countless children, said McNeil-Miller, who has led the Trust for the past eight years. McNeil-Miller added that she is especially excited that Great Expectations is proactive, rather than reactive.
“We would rather not do remedial efforts,” she remarked. “We’d rather support (children) and help them flourish and sprout when they’re younger.”
Northwest Child Development Centers rounds out the current Great Expectations grantees. The agency’s Mudpies Coliseum location received nearly $42,000 from the Trust to cover the cost of staff, materials and tuition for nine preschoolers who would otherwise not be able to attend the facility, which is ranked highly by the state for its education and other standards. Mudpies also received a $350,000 grant from the Trust last year to aid in the procurement of the land for its forthcoming Mudpies Downtown East Facility. Northwest Child Development Centers CEO Dr. Tony Burton III praised the Trust for recognizing the importance of early childhood education.
“Most of the kids who drop out (of high school) had not as successful early starts to their education. The studies that are out there show that by third grade, you can tell whether a child is going to be successful in school,” Burton explained. “I think the Trust recognized that (the problem) starts a whole lot earlier than kindergarten. We’ve got to do something to get these kids better prepared for kindergarten.”
Burton said the program has a high probability of living up to its own name, because it focuses on fixing the issue at its core, essentially stopping the problem before it starts.
“If we can equal the playing ground for children, we can have more successful children across the board in our community, which makes our whole community more successful,” he said. “…It’s only (supporting) nine kids, but that’s nine more kids that we have a chance to make more successful.”
Crocker said Great Expectations leaders hope to work with other area agencies in the future in order to further its mission of ensuring that every child in the community gets a strong start to his or her education.
“We know that this works. We know that investments in early childhood education is a primary way to stem poverty and all that goes along with that,” said the Kings Mountain native. “We will hopefully be adding other supporters that might have this same interest in this concept of making sure that early childhood education is a focus of this community.”
For more information about the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust or the Great Expectations program, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.kbr.org” www.kbr.org.