When HiMama first interviewed K’Sandra Earle — Associate Director at Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan — it was clear that her energy and passion for early childhood education were quite contagious. K’Sandra described that when COVID hit that her center was quite literally “building the plane, flying the plane, gassing it and passing out snacks.”
ELNC is comprised of seven community-based agencies with a focus on providing, expanding, and sustaining the capacity of high-quality early care and education programs in the vulnerable neighborhoods of Grand Rapids.
“Your zip code doesn’t determine what happens to you and the trajectory in your life.”K’Sandra Earle
Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative providers typically serve children 0-5 in their Early Head Start program as well as a private 3-year-old program and 4-year-old program operated through state funding. However, since all of their families are underserved families, K’Sandra and her team knew right away that this pandemic would hit their families the hardest.
Here are K’Sandra’s tips for making a difference in your community:
Help Children See the Good in Their Community
K’Sandra and her team purchased and provided the things most families may take for granted, such as purchasing diapers and wipes for their little ones, so there was no disruption in service regardless of a pandemic or not. “Sometimes in an underserved community, children don’t see good things happening in their communities, K’Sandra says, “but we want them to see good things happen in their neighborhood. “Your zip code doesn’t determine what happens to you and the trajectory in your life.”
K’Sandra credits her amazing families in the community for keeping her motivated to work hard and provide support. “When you add a pandemic on top of all the families we serve, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of communities, and we wanted to be able to be that support system for our families.”
Collaborate with Other Professionals
Despite all of K’Sandra and her organization’s efforts to their community, K’Sandra admits that navigating the pandemic was challenging. “Nobody gave us a guide on how to run a center in a pandemic,” she explains. She encourages people to ask other professionals in their field for advice and support.
Asking families directly can also help you find out what will best help them. “Something that has guided us is what feels right and best for our families and us and asking families what is best for them, doing surveys, and seeing what works. Taking the feedback from what they did is also important so if they do shelter in place again they have plans in place.”
Rebuild Your Community
K’Sandra recommends asking questions to anyone and everyone. Both educators and families know what they need, so listen to them. Bring community partners in and rebuild your community. Lastly, she suggests building a relationship with state legislators.
HiMama’s interview with K’Sandra could not have come at a better time. ELNC recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and raised over $51,000 virtually to provide their families with child care, transportation, supplies, and personalized family coaching in their organization.
ELNC prides themselves on being a grassroots community agency
and serving their community who are often overlooked by government bodies. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to find out more about their organization’s mission, goals, and how they’re truly making a difference in marginalized communities.
Early Childhood Hero- Noun-/Ear-ly Chi-ld-hoo-d He-ro/– An individual or organization in the Early Childhood field who exemplifies outstanding and notable achievements in their community.
HiMama has received dozens of nominations of individuals in the Early Childhood community who are going above and beyond to help their families, children, and communities during Covid-19. We were lucky enough to interview these heroes and get their stories on how they’ve helped their communities and persevered through challenging and uncertain times as well as gain some advice to share with others.
Know a Hero?
Do you know an individual or organization that deserves to be recognized? Tell us their story by submitting it online HERE.