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Foundation closing in on achievement gap goal

The Evanston Community Foundation is nearing completion of a major matching gift challenge to build its permanent endowment to $6 million for its Communityworks initiative that focuses on early learning and kindergarten readiness.

The Evanston Community Foundation is nearing completion of a major matching gift challenge to build its permanent endowment to $6 million for its Communityworks initiative that focuses on early learning and kindergarten readiness.

The community foundation has until Sept. 30 to complete raising $2 million to qualify for matching funds from the Grand Victoria Foundation. So far it has raised more than $1.7 million toward the goal.

The money raised will build on the foundation's pilot "Every Child Ready for Kindergarten, Every Youth Ready for Work" program and expand it to offer a broader range of services.

"Our goal is to level the playing field," said the community foundation's president, Sara Schastok. "This program not only reaches children at a crucial age in their development as learners, it also provides assistance to parents who struggle with a variety of life issues while also adjusting to parenthood with very few financial resources."

The "Every Child" project engages key local agencies as partners in a learning network. Receiving funds are the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, the District 65 Family Center, and The Child Care Center of Evanston.

ECF's grants expand the percentage of families receiving home visiting and support by one-third. Moreover, the home visiting and family support services at the heart of "Every Child" are supplemented by enrichment activities offered by the Family Room, Childcare Network of Evanston, and the Evanston Public Library.

The pilot project supports home visits with 50 families a year, developmental screening for over 400 children and educational drop-in sessions attended by over 150 families.

The program has had a 67 percent retention rate despite the recession's effects on those most vulnerable to loss of jobs, housing, and subsidized services.

ECF engages researchers at Northern Illinois University to evaluate the program's effectiveness and to train all Evanston home visitors in four assessment tools to asses the results of their work with families.

The training evaluates and boosts the professional skills of home visitors, an important component of success for home visiting services.

District 65 Family Center and IWSE offer home visiting to teen mothers, immigrant parents, parents touched by domestic violence or mental illness, and poor families struggling with the burden of a new baby.

Starting from birth, weekly visitors bring simple toys and board books, child development tips, screening and steady encouragement. Kindergarten readiness is the goal, so the "Every Child" initiative continues toward kindergarten registration by subsidizing participation in high quality preschool programs for children ages 3 to 5 who are "graduating" from the home visiting program.

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