“Putting ideas into action” describes exactly what we do at the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children (PF). It’s based on the premise that “a solution isn’t a solution until someone puts it in place”—that ideas must be put into action. This very simple, but powerful, concept resonates with me.
The ideas we put in place are not necessarily our own but rather the ideas of many minds, primarily in Vermont, with years of experience in the fields of Mentoring or Early Childhood Development. These also include the ideas of other foundations and philanthropists—our fellow funders—who share our commitment to this work. Our role has been to bring these folks together to share these ideas, aggregate resources, and develop solutions.
Let’s take a look back at 2012 and review some of the ideas that have been put into action for Vermont’s children.
2012: The Year in Review
Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative
Twelve years ago the Permanent Fund had the good fortune to meet Mark Sustic, an early childhood professional in Franklin County. He shared with us his idea of developing a community process, involving parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and child care providers, to determine the best way to approach publicly-funded preschool in St. Albans. All the stakeholders would be invited to participate and share their ideas in a collaborative process to create a solution that would benefit children and families.
The St. Albans project was so successful we asked Mark if he would lead a similar community process in Winooski. After the success of the Winooski project we pulled together other funders and experts and asked for some bold ideas to develop a statewide solution for high quality, universal pre-K. Those ideas were put in to action with the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative (VCPC).
In 2012, thanks to a collaboration of eight foundations and philanthropists pooling $550,000 (PF share $125,000), 15 new VCPC projects have been funded, an additional 500 three- and four-year-olds enrolled, and an additional $1.3 million of State funds invested in the early childhood system. Prior to the St. Albans project in 2000, there were approximately 2,000 children benefiting from publicly-funded pre-K and now, thanks largely to VCPC, 6,000 children are enrolled. VCPC has developed 41 new projects statewide and approximately $10 million of new state funds are now invested annually in the early childhood system to support pre-K!
The Vermont Mentoring Funders Collaborative
Adult/Child mentoring has long been known as the most cost-effective way to help children stay on track and provide them with the assets they need to thrive. It is based on adults getting involved in their communities and the concept, “It takes a Village to Raise a Child.”
Several years ago, the Permanent Fund joined with the State of Vermont to share ideas for a coordinated effort to create a culture of mentoring in every Vermont community and to develop mentoring programs in every Vermont school so that every child who wanted or needed a mentor could have one. These ideas were put in to action with the Vermont Mentoring Funders Collaborative (VMFC).
In 2012, other foundations joined the Permanent Fund and the State in providing $400,000 to support mentoring (PF share $100,000) by creating approximately 400 new mentoring matches and develop 15 new school-based mentoring programs in elementary schools throughout Vermont.
Vermont Birth to Three
This is another example of an idea that has taken off! Two years ago, the Permanent Fund brought together other foundations sharing our interest in the brain science—which tells us that 90% of the core development of a child’s brain occurs by the age of 3—along with 20 early childhood professionals with a mix of backgrounds, as well as leaders in State government to share ideas on how to most effectively impact the lives of infants and toddlers.
Consensus was reached and the agreed upon solution was to improve the quality of home-based child care and help providers become an effective resource for parents. These ideas were put in to action with Vermont Birth to Three (VB3).
When we launched VB3 there were 14% of registered home-based providers participating in Vermont’s STARS quality rating system. At the end of 2012, VB3’s first full year of operation, there were more than 30% of providers participating. VB3’s 2012 investment of $1 million (PF share $350,000) has led to contracts with 20 early childhood professionals who mentor more than 200 home-based providers, assist providers with infant/toddler curriculum, provide technical assistance with the STARS application, and help providers access important professional development.
The Big Picture
VCPC, VMFC, and VB3 are demonstration projects. They cannot, themselves, solve all the challenges associated with early childhood development in Vermont. We, as private funders, do not have the resources to accomplish that. However, these projects DO provide a clear picture of what quality looks like and they ARE effective solutions that will be embedded in a comprehensive, integrated early childhood system. Our projects have been referred to as “Advocacy by Doing.” We help form sound government policy, inject private sector know-how, and then develop and implement solutions.
I, along with the Permanent Fund Board, am hugely appreciative of the support and counsel of our friends for, without it, we would not be able to take on this work. We have said that “collaboration is in our DNA,” that we are in this together, and that is certainly true. I also want to acknowledge the special strategic partnership we have with The Vermont Community Foundation, The A.D. Henderson Foundation and The Turrell Fund, three foundations who share our commitment to this work, provide experience and savvy on early childhood issues, and make this journey thoroughly enjoyable as we share ideas, create solutions, and put ideas into action.