Community Foundation seeks to engage young leaders through $100,000 Transformation Grant to Women’s Leadership Council

The Quad Cities Community Foundation is joining forces with the Women's Leadership Council, part of the United Way of the Quad Cities, to expand early childhood learning while also engaging young professionals in philanthropy.

Through a $100,000 Transformation Grant from the Community Foundation, Born Learning Academies could receive continued funding for their learning academies for the parents of children ages birth to five. The 6-week programs support early childhood development by improving communication and connections between parents, kids and schools.

The grant, made in the form of a 1:1 match, is the largest single grant awarded through the Community Foundation's Community Impact Endowment each year. The Community Foundation awarded its first Transformation Grant in 2015 to the Quad Cities Housing Cluster.

The Transformation Grant will not only provide funding for the Born Learning Academies, but will also engage more women in the Women's Leadership Council. Members join the Council, contributing $2,500 to the initiative. The grant from the Community Foundation will make it possible for 80 young professionals aged 40 or under to become charter members, infusing the Council with young members who will bring their ideas, energy and perspective to the program.

In some cases, the donation may prevent young professionals from joining the Council. The grant, however, will pay half of their donation—$1,250—to match the new member's own $1,250. Every dollar contributed, both by the new member and from the Community Foundation, will go directly to support the work of Born Learning.

Community Foundation President and CEO Sherry Ristau said the grant is an example of the far-reaching effects of philanthropy, and represents the Community Foundation's belief in bringing good people together to address critical community opportunities.

"The Council is a group of passionate, focused women who have honed in on an important issue in our community, purposefully working to make it better," Ristau said. "There is no doubt that hundreds of families and young lives will be touched by this work. We are excited to make this Transformation Grant to support their work, and champion new efforts in the year ahead."

Studies show that there is significant brain development in the first five years of a child's life and it is imperative they have adequate learning opportunities before reaching kindergarten, noted Mary Junck, one of the original Co-Chairs of the Council and the Executive Chairman of Lee Enterprises.

"Our purpose was to put together programs that ensure that children are getting the kind of education they need so they are ready for kindergarten," Junck said. "If they are ready to go into kindergarten, then they will be able to read by third grade, make it through junior high, and graduate from high school."

The Council has started targeting areas in the community with the greatest need and have opened Born Learning Academies in response to that need. The academies, which are held at schools in areas of the community where children are most at-risk for not being prepared for kindergarten, include a meal for the entire family. The kids are then led in an educational activity while parents learn about the best ways to help their children succeed in learning.

The program offers tools for parents to bolster their children's success in school, including reading tips, bedtime help, and proper nutrition. The program has been so successful in its first year that there is a waiting list to participate.

"In Born Learning, we are enforcing the idea that parents are a child's first best teacher," Junck said. "We're in the early stages of this and it's going to be a really great thing."

Kelly Thompson, Vice President of Grantmaking and Community Initiatives at the Community Foundation, said change happens through relationships, a hallmark of Born Learning. "Parents connect with their children, and they also connect with the school or organization hosting Born Learning. In this way, when their child goes to school, parents will see that school as a welcoming place to be involved. This not only strengthens the family to support their child, but also strengthens the school in the long-term to have more involved parents."

Rosie Barton, Co-Chair of the Women's Leadership Council, added that the work with Born Learning is changing lives in the Quad Cities. "The sessions have been very rewarding, and I'm amazed at the parents' commitment to ensuring their child is ready to succeed in life," she said. "This grant invites more young women to join the effort. We want them to see what amazing mountains we can move when we come together. We want to see that conversation started now."

"We structured the grant to help the Women's Leadership Council make new relationships that will sustain their efforts to support young children," Thompson said.

The Council, Junck added, would not have been able to complete the initiative without the Transformation Grant. "We're exceedingly grateful. We don't want to quit until every child in the Quad Cities is ready to go when they hit kindergarten."

Community Foundation Transformation Grants represent the organization's commitment to partnering with people and programs that transform the region. The grant program was started in 2015 in celebration of the Community Foundation's new mission to transform the community through the generosity of donors.

The funds come from the Community Impact Endowment at the Community Foundation, which is a permanently endowed fund supported by more than 100 donors who have made unrestricted gifts totaling more than $11 million. The endowment empowers the Community Foundation to meet needs and take advantage of opportunities to serve the Quad Cities as they arise each year.

Thompson said the Transformation Grants support initiatives that will continue to transform the region long after the funds are spent.

"We look for collaborative approaches that connect both sides of the river and align with the Q2030 Regional Action Plan," she said. "Rather than just funding one agency, Transformation Grants affect a larger system working to make the Quad Cities more cool, creative, connected and prosperous. Born Learning focuses on the very youngest 'creative people' in the Quad Cities, making sure they have every chance to be successful in education—and someday, contribute to a 21st century workforce."

Melanie JonesStudents, Grant