Millage Recipient Profile - Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative

The Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative ELNC is part of the Ready by Five Provider Network. ELNC was formed in response to the alarming and disproportionate lack of readiness for kindergarten (83%) among children in the Grand Rapids Public School system.

In 2010, Dr. Nkechy Ezeh was engaged by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to lead a collaborative process with grassroots organizations to explore why this was happening and to develop a collaborative solution to the problem. Seven organizations, considered institutions of trust within their neighborhoods, said yes to the invitation to participate - Baxter Community Center; Hispanic Center of Western Michigan; New Hope Baptist Church; SECOM Resource Center; Steepletown Neighborhood Services; The Other Way Ministries; and United Methodist Community Center.

As an early childhood expert, Dr. Ezeh understood that the first step in the process was to clearly understand the underlying conditions that impacted the school readiness of so many children. The information found confirmed what many assumed- many of the children living within certain vulnerable neighborhoods were impacted by generational poverty coupled with having parents who themselves had not had the benefits of a quality early childhood education. The reasons behind this were complex and a result of years of policies and practices, however well-intended, that did little to promote racial equity and raise up families. Undaunted by the complexity of the issue, one fact stood out - one that could be remedied given enough resources combined with a strong passion and desire to actually challenge the status quo and do things differently. Only about 17% of vulnerable children had access to quality early learning opportunities. Even though there were centers close by, they were filled to their capacity by “paying customers” while the most vulnerable were left behind in environments not conducive to early brain development.

Armed with this information, Dr. Ezeh founded Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) and with the collaborative partners is currently implementing an intentional Early Childhood Education service system aimed at providing, expanding and sustaining the capacity of high-quality early care and education programs in the vulnerable neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. What started as a pilot project is now a replicable model of early childhood education.

ELNC received funding for two programs from the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage.

  • The "Play to Learn" program will host year-round weekly neighborhood playgroups, open to all families and home-based providers. This program fills an expressed gap in services to provide Early Childhood Education services outside of our current classrooms and partner sites.
  • The "Flourish at Home" program utilizes ELNC's two-generational model to provide home visiting services to families in Grand Rapids. Family needs will be addressed through assessments on the family's well-being, as well as the developmental progress of the child. Home Visiting Educators will help families meet their basic needs and increase their social capital inventory.

During this time of taking precautions in regards to COVID-19, ELNC is working to make Home Visiting efforts happen online and over the phone for Flourish at Home participants, as well as maintaining contact with families interested in the Play to Learn program.

“In Nigeria, we have a proverb: In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams. I am proud to be a part of a community that saw a crisis and decided to build a strong enough bridge that will accommodate all our children not just those with financial resources. ELNC is proud to be a Ready by Five provider and thankful to all that made this possible,” said Dr. Nkechy Ezeh, Founder & CEO, ELNC.

Both programs are new to ELNC, but will address a gap in the early childhood system in Kent County. Since 2010, ELNC has offered innovative early childhood, summer learning, and parent engagement opportunities in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ELNC is in 35 classrooms, works with 11 partners, and has served more than 2,200 children.