GAR Foundation awards grant to SPARK Program
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GAR Foundation awards grant to SPARK Program

Through funding, listening, research, advocacy, and communications, the GAR Foundation works to connect Akron and make it a smarter, stronger, and more vibrant community. 

Earlier this year, the GAR Foundation awarded nearly $2 million in grants to local nonprofits, including $150,000 to the Early Childhood Resource Center.

This funding will support the Early Childhood Resource Center’s Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) program in Summit County. Focused on kindergarten readiness, the SPARK program engages 3- and 4-year-old children in lessons developed using state educational standards.

SPARK activities are specifically designed to help preschoolers strengthen their early literacy skills, math skills, motor skills, and social-emotional development. The program also teaches parents to engage with their children and embrace their role as their child’s first and most important teacher. 

Every family participating in the SPARK program is assigned a trained parent partner, who conducts lessons in the home once or twice a month. Following lessons, the parent partner provides the SPARK family with books, supplies, and guidance, which enables parents to continue working on school readiness skills with their children in between SPARK visits.

SPARK has served nearly 19,000 Ohio children since its inception in 2003. Ongoing independent evaluation of the program has determined that children who participate in the SPARK program consistently outperform their non-participating peers on Ohio’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA), to a statistically significant degree. 

A Trusted Partner

Since 2017, the GAR Foundation has provided around $1.6 million in funding for Early Childhood Resource Center initiatives outside SPARK, including the Supporting Teachers and Ready Students (STARS) and Business Operations and Staffing Solutions (BOSS) programs.

“When it comes to supporting nonprofits, we really do our due diligence,” said Kristin Toth, GAR senior vice president. “After working with the Early Childhood Resource Center, we know the quality of work they provide for initiatives like the SPARK program. They’re top-notch professionals who are highly trusted in the community by everyone from preschools to other funders across multiple counties.”

Toth noted that GAR trusts the Early Childhood Resource Center not only for its community outreach, but also as an organizational partner. The Center’s knowledge, professionalism, and passion have been instrumental as GAR has developed some of its own programs. 

The Child is the Center

The Early Childhood Resource Center believes the child is the center of everything the organization does. These local children eventually grow into adults who become central to economic growth and prosperity in our communities. As such, high quality early childhood education is essential to ensuring our future workforce is equipped with more productive, successful, and active participants. Unfortunately, early childhood education is in crisis. Toth cites undervalued preschool staff as one of the primary challenges.

“Many child care professionals work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with little to no benefits, at poverty-level wages,” said Toth. “These factors, along with high burnout rates, have created a dwindling (child care) workforce.”

To combat these challenges facing the industry, the Early Childhood Resource Center works to help stabilize struggling child care centers by assisting administrators in efficiently managing their facilities, identifying cost savings, training caregivers, and securing additional funding and resources.

Equally as important, Toth points out, is awareness. The Early Childhood Resource Center has taken steps to build community awareness around important early childhood issues through events that include its recent Kindergarten Kickoff fundraiser, which helped raise support for the SPARK program. Additionally, in October the Center hosted an event for local business leaders that featured Nobel Laureate James Heckman, who spoke about the effects of the child care crisis on our workforce.

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