Lane County, Oregon
Tell Our Story
Lane County, Oregon, which includes Eugene, has been working on early childhood development, school readiness and literacy issues for over a decade, largely as the focus of United Way of Lane County (UWLC)’s Success By 6® initiative, which started in 1998. The community has an unusual collaborative because it is home to internationally recognized research institutions, the University of Oregon and a robust network of nonprofit organizations.
UWLC is the backbone support organization for a local parenting education “hub,” LaneKids, which was established in 2011 to coordinate and expand access to parenting education opportunities across the county. Efforts, to date, include development of a comprehensive website, www.lanekids.org and support of collaborative parenting education projects across the community. LaneKids is one of twelve regional parenting education hubs across Oregon and northern California supported by the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative (OPEC). OPEC is a partnership between four of Oregon’s largest foundations (OCF, The Ford Family Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust and The Collins Foundation) as well as Oregon State University.
UWLC leads two Promise Neighborhoods (non-federally funded) projects. UWLC also participates in Frontiers of Innovation, developingchild.harvard.edu/activities/frontiers_of_innovation/, as one of eleven sites in the nation to serve on an advisory group helping to design and pilot creative, new intervention strategies and contributing to active, cross-site learning. United Way is co-lead for Oregon’s Help Me Grow efforts, www.helpmegrownational.org/index.php, working to develop a system for early identification of children at-risk for developmental disabilities and connection to community supports.
This is all part of Oregon's effort to redesign our early learning system. In February, UWLC and partners will launch the Lane Early Learning Hub – bringing together the early childhood, health, K-12 education, human and social service and business sectors into one system to ensure that children enter school ready to learn. This is one of the first six Early Learning Hubs to be established in Oregon as part of statewide system redesign.
What is working?
Summer Reading Spots in our two Promise Neighborhoods. The Summer Reading Spots are an hour of volunteer-led reading in local parks, directly after Food For Lane County’s Summer Lunch Program. Local parks and recreation offers the site and advertisement space in recreation guides. UWLC staff oversee interns from the University of Oregon who manage site logistics, volunteer recruitment and management, as well as marketing/outreach efforts. Every child who visits the Summer Reading Spots gets to pick out a book to take home. Library staff also assist in training volunteer readers.
Book Donations. UWLC’s Emerging Leaders Council – a group of young professionals interested in volunteering and philanthropy – hosts a community-wide book drive each spring. They collect thousands of new and gently used books and financial donations used to purchase new books through our relationship with First Book, a national nonprofit that provides books at discounted prices to organizations serving children and families in need. The Eugene Public Library also donates 500 brand new books in English and Spanish.
Day of Action: Literacy Kits. UWLC’s 2013 Day of Action focused on making “literacy kits” that included The Very Hungry Caterpillar in English/Spanish, fun “props” that match the story, tips for reading with children, information about parenting education resources, library story times and other local resources. Approximately 10 local companies contributed financial and volunteer support. Over 200 volunteers helped create thousands of props and assemble 1,000 literacy kits that were distributed at the Summer Reading Spots and through local agencies.
With funding from UWLC and Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC), in partnership with the Bethel and Springfield School Districts, the Kids In Transition to School (KITS) program is offered to families in the Lane County Promise Neighborhoods.
The Kids in Transition to School (KITS) Program is an evidence-based intervention that features a 16-week series of school readiness playgroups for children targeted at improving children’s early literacy and social-emotional skills. Parents also attend a series of 12 workshops that help them better prepare their children for school entry, encourage their involvement in their children’s schooling and to teach skills to encourage behaviors to promote positive school behaviors.
Preliminary results from the Promise Neighborhoods KITS programs show a 28% drop in the number of children at risk for reading failure as measured by phonological awareness and a 40% drop in the number of children at risk for difficulties with concepts about print. Additionally, they showed decreases in aggressive responses to peers. Ninety-five percent of parents in the KITS Program felt the program improved their ability to prepare their children for school and 85% felt that the program improved how they read to their children. Further, 95% of parents said the program improved their ability to increase their child’s positive behaviors.
South Lane School District leads an effort that has a potential impact on school attendance whereby low-income students receive free oral health screenings and dental care. A majority of the students served do not have dental insurance coverage and/or their family cannot afford needed dental care. Many students suffer from pain due to cavities and abscesses, which affects their academic performance as they are experiencing pain while in school or they have to miss school. Of 1,256 elementary school students in the South Lane School District screened in 2012 for dental health issues at the start of the school year, about 18 percent were identified with dental disease and in need of restorative dental care.
They can receive services from the South Lane Children’s Dental Clinic, made up of licensed community dentists and volunteer staff providing free dental care to qualifying children. Support for the clinic is provided by South Lane Children Dental Care Coalition, which includes over a dozen key community partner organizations and a supporting group of five dentists, school district employees, and community volunteers.
Through community support and The Oregon Community Foundation grant funding, the South Lane Children’s Dental Clinic opened in October 2012. This volunteer-driven, no-cost clinic serves more than 1,000 low-income children who previously lacked access to oral health education, supplies, fluoride varnish, sealants and restorative dental care. Originally only serving the South Lane School District, the clinic now also provides care to students in neighboring Creswell School District.
What have you accomplished?
In 2013, the Summer Reading Spots had approximately 2,000 visits, distributed about 2,000 books and logged approximately 300 volunteer hours.
Since first funding the implementation of KITS in two schools in 2010, the program has scaled up to serve seven schools in our community – providing both increased service in the Promise Neighborhoods and new service in a rural community outside of the Promise Neighborhoods.
Which barriers have proven most challenging?
Volunteer recruitment has been challenging. When the Summer Reading Spots began in 2009, it was the result of a partnership between United Way’s Success By 6® initiative and Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). We quickly learned that this constituency of volunteers is less likely than others to want to be in the park on hot summer afternoons. We shifted our volunteer recruitment focus to young professionals, but again, the warm afternoons and timing (1-2 p.m.) proved difficult for this group. We now have a relationship with our local Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) program, Oregon’s largest early literacy nonprofit organization, which places volunteer readers with children in schools during the school year. It’s been an ideal fit for these well-trained, committed volunteers to volunteer at the Summer Reading Spots, which in turn encourages its volunteers to sign up to be SMART readers.
Finding children prior to kindergarten entry to enroll in the KITS program has been challenging. To address this issue, UWLC recruited volunteers to canvass the Promise Neighborhoods and let families know about the opportunity, as well as about other programs and services. KITS enrollment took place at kindergarten orientations. Because of these outreach efforts, KITS not only has had great enrollment, but attendance at kindergarten orientation has doubled and even tripled at some schools, which greatly helps school staff in planning for the year. As KITS continues to expand, more efficient, feasible methods for outreach will need to be developed.
What have been the biggest surprises? Disappointments?
At the Summer Reading Spots, we’ve been most surprised by participation. From parents regularly bringing infants to school-aged boys coming over from the skate park to families who join in every single day of the summer, we’ve been very pleased with participation. We suspect the books are a large draw for most and it helps that they’re co-located with the Summer Lunch Program.
After doing a comparison with our library, we found that the families visiting the Summer Reading Spots are not the same families that participate in the library’s summer reading program. We’re pleased to reach a population that may not otherwise have access to summer literacy programming.
Have there been any unexpected benefits? Costs?
The cost of running background checks was unexpected at first but is something we now build into our (small) budget.
With KITS, we’ve seen how powerful partnering with a research organization can be. Translating research into community programming has not only had an impact on children and families, but we’re able to demonstrate the impact through data. This program has been very appealing to donors, volunteers and funders.
What have you learned?
There’s always more to do! Having visible, high-impact community programming builds community buy-in from many quarters and garners support for less visible systems level work.
What is the biggest take away?
Starting small can be a great way to demonstrate results, leverage resources and scale programming over time.