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United Way creates access to early learning

By Kayleen St. Louis

United Way Project Coordinator

Research shows there is significant value and importance in providing quality early learning opportunities for all children, especially those living in poverty. Currently, there is an 18 percent child poverty rate in Mower County.

Because of this, the United Way strives to ensure early education opportunities are available, and targets specifically those who are impoverished. In order to provide these opportunities, the first step is to eliminate some of the barriers that our families are facing. Some of those identified barriers include having the financial resources to send a child to preschool and having available transportation.

To address the barriers of the cost of preschool as well as transportation, the Success by Six Initiative was formed. The initiative is a collaborative between SMART, the Parenting Resource Center, Austin Aspires, and the United Way of Mower County. These community partners have come together to provide scholarships and transportation to those families who would not be able to send a child to preschool without our services. With a grant from the Hormel Foundation, the initiative is able to provide preschool scholarships to families who fall below or just above the 100 percent poverty line. Last year 74 low-income families were served.

The United Way of Mower County also aims to help eliminate these barriers by partnering with the Parenting Resource Center and SMART to provide preschool-aged children, in need, with a safe and reliable form of transportation. During the 2015 – 2016 school year, we received over 150 applications for kids in need of Rainbow Route transportation, and were able to transport over 126 kids to and from preschool. This school year we received over 260 applications, and of those who applied, we were able to transport over 166 children. We could accommodate more riders this past year because we added more buses and routes, after seeing the increased need through our assessments and tracking.

In our community assessment, we found that more than three-fourths of Mower County adults are working, and for many they are not only facing the struggle with poverty but also the lack of resources to get their child to and from school.  The research doesn’t only show the importance of early education, but also shows that these opportunities are vital for at-risk children. Without agencies coming together, many of those whom could benefit the most would find these educational opportunities out of reach. This is just one of the many ways that the United Way of Mower County ensures that everyone in our community has what they need to thrive.

If you, or anyone you know, is interested in applying for the Rainbow Route or preschool scholarships, please contact your preschool directly.