OWOSSO — Great Start Shiawassee has raised enough money to send 75 3-year-olds from across the county to preschool this fall — for free.
Persuading Consumers Energy, Chemical Bank, Memorial Healthcare and other area businesses, agencies and individuals to give until it hurt, Great Start Shiawassee — the local arm of a statewide group that supports early childhood initiatives — collected a whopping $92,000 in nine months.
And that amount got doubled to $184,000, thanks to an Early Childhood Investment Corp. matching grant.
“Community members stepped up to the plate huge,” Great Start Shiawassee Director Emily Brewer, who organized what was the group’s first fundraiser, said Friday.
“I learned that you have to trust that people are generous, and they are; and that people care about each other, and they do.”
The raised funds are paying for Great Start scholarships to send 3-year-olds from local families with financial need to preschool programs associated with area public schools. The other $92,000 will be used to sustain the scholarships over the years, Brewer said.
Great Start receives sufficient funds from Head Start and Great Start Readiness to send 4-year-olds to preschool, Brewer said, but finding money for 3-year-olds is more challenging.
Yet, the younger children benefit greatly from getting a head start on kindergarten, which has a much more rigorous curriculum than it did 20 years ago, said Hattie Hanycz, director of Owosso Schools’ Bentley Bright Beginnings preschool.
Through Great Start scholarships, 23 children are enrolled in Bentley Bright Beginnings this fall.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Hanycz said. “We have more 3-year-olds this year than we have ever had. Our program filled so fast, we might have to open an additional section.”
In preschool, the children not only gain social experiences and adapt to the routine of attending school, they also learn about colors, shapes, numbers and letters of the alphabet; participate in science experiments, are introduced to technology — and much more, Hanycz said.
“I would love to thank everybody who donated,” she said.
Brewer said she and the 40 members of the Great Start board of directors raised funds — including from Young Auto Sales and United Way — by giving presentations at agencies and businesses, selling paper dolls at local businesses and spreading the word in any way they could.
Consumers Energy contributed $20,000.
“We believe real strongly that providing support to early childhood programs is one of the best investments we can make for Michigan’s future,” said Carolyn Bloodworth, secretary/treasurer of the Consumers Energy Foundation.
“We want these kids to have the right start. We want them to succeed.”
Great Start is a nationally recognized statewide initiative to foster school readiness and life success for young children through a network of public and private services that work together in communities to support pediatric and family health; social and emotional health; child care and early education; parenting support; and family support/basic needs.
For more information about Great Start-Shiawassee, visit www.greatstartshiawassee.org.