Kresge pledges $20M for early education in Detroit

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Jewell Jones has few memories of his time as a preschooler at Head Start: climbing on the play-scape, riding a bike, nap time, snacks.

Yet at 19, Jones credits the school readiness program for young children from low-income families with putting him on the track to success today: studying political science and finance at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and operating his own consulting business.

"It was real community-oriented," Jones said of the Head Start program he attended at Starfish Family Services in Inkster in the late 1990s. "It was a good gateway to learn how to talk to people and be a people person."

Nearly 31 million Americans have attended Head Start since its inception 49 years ago, according to the National Head Start Association.

Those ranks will increase in Michigan and across the nation under a $1 billion public-private investment into the program as part of Invest in US, a national effort announced last week by President Barack Obama.

While Michigan is not receiving any of the $250 million in Education Department grants headed to other states, foundations are stepping up to fill the need.

The Troy-based Kresge Foundation has committed $20 million over five years to build out a high-quality early childhood development system in Detroit in collaboration with local, state and federal partners.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek, is also supporting the campaign with a $22 million investment in Michigan. Of that, $7.5 million will go to grantees in Detroit.

Nationally, corporations, foundations and nonprofit organizations have pledged $340 million so that children from birth to age 5 have easy access to and benefit from early education.

"Kresge wants Detroit's children – all children – to succeed in school and life," says Rip Rapson, Kresge's president and chief executive officer.

"Investments in early childhood education are critically important to our youngest learners and their families. Well-prepared youngsters excel academically, are healthier and contribute more fully to society and the economic mainstream."

Kresge's newest commitment includes $500,000 to the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan to continue support of the Detroit Head Start Early Childhood Innovation Fund.

Kresge also made grants of $150,000 to support the Detroit Parent Network to help increase parental involvement in schools and communities, and $1 million to Inkster-based Starfish Family Services to launch Thrive by Five Detroit. Starfish is collaborating with three groups – Development Centers Inc., Focus HOPE and Southwest Counseling Solutions – to create Thrive by Five. It will provide child-development services for an additional 1,000 Detroit children from birth to 5.

The Invest in US challenge was organized by the First Five Years Fund and its philanthropic partners. It is designed to catalyze broad, ongoing support for early childhood education, officials say.

Sharnita Johnson, Detroit program officer for Kellogg, said the grants will go to licensed home providers who offer Head Start programs. With 196,000 children ages zero to 5 in poverty in Michigan, the need for assistance is greater than the number of head start slots available.

"It's recognizing there are very high quality organizations working will children here. There is a tremendous need. There is not enough licensed or center-based opportunities," she said. "Statewide we are working to get more money to meet that gap."

To locate a Head Start program in Michigan, go to