This summer our community partner, Elgin Partnership for Early Learning (EPEL), is creating safe learning spaces to engage children. The initiative called Learning On the Go supports and educates neighborhood children who are harder to reach.

Learning On the Go prepares young children ages birth through 5 years old for school and life. The goal is to build a learning community that supports children and families through the most formative years of adolescence.

“One of the coolest parts of this program is that the families are wrapped in services without having to leave their neighborhood,” explained Amber Peters, Executive Director at EPEL.

United Way funds organizations like EPEL because they are dedicated to coordinating a community of support that helps children thrive with quality early childhood care and education. Through collaborative partnerships, EPEL can create high-quality learning opportunities for all of our neighbors to reduce the achievement gap in communities with limited resources

Currently, the initiative is serving 25-35 children at four of five Elgin community sites; however, one of their sites is in a predominantly Black neighborhood where they have only served seven children.

“This is our hardest neighborhood to reach and we continue to adjust each summer to serve their families best, and we are all working together to mitigate these challenges and find solutions. We hope as we all work together we can continue to build capacity as they need us most,” explained Amber.

Early education equips young children to have better social skills and learning skills that help them throughout life.

According to the National Head Start Association, “Early Head Start children show significantly better social-emotional, language, and cognitive development”.

EPEL is excited for the connections they are already seeing this summer in reaching children and families. During the first week of Learning On the Go, children gathered around as they listened to a story from bilingual YWCA Elgin early education teachers. Along with the story they also received a book to take home and materials that support learning through play.

“It was such a joy to see the teachers singing, doing fun activities with the children, supporting parents, and modeling good practices,” added Amber.

By week two, children will receive bags with materials like scissors, crayons, construction paper, counting materials and books. This is all used to engage and promote the use of early learning materials within the community.

Community partners like the local libraries provide books through Bookmobile to engage and read to the children for each activity. Children and families also get the opportunity to sign up for different programs like Girl Scouts, Child Care Assistance and Family Dental Care.

“It takes a village and a lot of caring partners to wrap our most vulnerable in services and love,” said Amber.

EPEL continues to work to ensure that children in Elgin and surrounding neighborhoods have access to quality early education. Through community engagement, Elgin can meet the needs of children and families no matter their background or social identity.

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By Jessica Jones, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist