Leading national organizations, including The National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, Center for the Study of Social Policy, National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ) and StriveTogether, have selected Multnomah County as one of 29 communities across the country to work together to improve child development systems from birth to age 3. The Pritzker Children’s Initiative (PCI), a project of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, is investing more than $6.5 million initially during the one year pilot partnership – with additional funding to follow.

Multnomah County represents the only community to be selected in the Pacific Northwest by the Center for the Study of Social Policy into the Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC). United Way of the Columbia-Willamette will serve as the community lead through its strategic initiative, Early Learning Multnomah (ELM), which addresses the biases and barriers children of color face before kindergarten to ensure equity and provide an opportunity for every child in Multnomah County to learn, grow and thrive. The initiative is part of United Way’s broader mission of investing in kids to eliminate racial disparities and reduce childhood poverty.  

“We are thrilled to join a network of communities who are seen as leaders in early childhood learning and innovation and to be able to jointly tackle the toughest shared challenges facing early childhood systems” said Keith Thomajan, President and CEO of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. “Being part of a national network gives United Way an opportunity to inform policy makers what is working at the community level so that policy reform brings real change for kids and families.”

With an estimated 3 million of the nation’s youngest children at risk of reaching kindergarten not ready to learn, the partnership seeks a dramatic investment in improving kindergarten readiness. The participating organizations will equip communities with tools to strengthen early childhood systems and share best practices with other cities, counties and states. In turn, communities will share resources that will drive policies and make the case for public and private investment in core services for young children.

“We are thrilled to join a network of communities who are seen as leaders in early childhood learning and innovation and to be able to jointly tackle the toughest shared challenges facing early childhood systems."

United Way’s ELM initiative already has a history of working to ensure young children have a strong start in life. Since its inception in 2014, ELM has distributed more than 16,000 early literacy kits in four languages and recently helped to create 192 additional high-quality preschool openings for three and four-year-olds in Multnomah County. ELM has also developed a Parent Accountability Council, which engages parents from African American, African immigrant, Asian, Latino, Native American and Slavic communities.


“Every day, families with young children are impacted by policies decided at levels beyond their reach. These decisions affect their lives in real ways—determining the kind of child care and healthcare they can get, and even how safe their neighborhoods are,” said Molly Day, Director of Early Learning Multnomah. “ELM’s parent leaders understand what’s at stake. Being part of the PCI partnership will elevate parents’ voices beyond Multnomah County so we can learn and share what works with communities across the country.”


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