Prioritizing Parents through the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage

(Jan 2024) Since the onset of the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage, parents have helped guide decisions. Four parents work with local leaders and experts on the Resident Proposal Review Board to read and score proposals and ultimately decide which Ready by Five programs and services are funded.

For the 2023 funding cycle, the Resident Proposal Review Board created the Prioritizing Parents Fund. Current Ready by Five partner agencies had the opportunity to request additional funding for parent-focused initiatives to enhance their scope of work already funded by the millage. Seven Ready by Five partner agencies applied and were awarded nearly $300,000 in funding.

The Prioritizing Parents Fund was set up to support initiatives that made parent voice a priority. The fund would help further agency responsiveness to the needs of families with young children in Kent County. The providers applied for funding for their programs with these specific intentions:

  • To have a better understanding of parent needs,
  • Offer an opportunity to support parents as their child’s first teacher,
  • Strengthen strategies to support parent leadership,
  • Improve processes to serve parents, or
  • Equip staff with professional development to achieve any of the initiatives listed above.

The following organizations were able to run impactful parent initiatives that incorporated parent voice, activated parent networks, and supported parents. Early childhood programs and services that prioritize parental involvement create opportunities for families to engage with each other and build supportive relationships. This fosters a sense of community and belonging, which is essential for children.

  • Kent ISD’s Laugh and Learn Event. This is an event that Kent ISD holds each year for parents currently involved with their early childhood programs. It is a summer event that takes place in the evening at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. This year, with the additional funding, the group was able to provide dinner for more than 1,500 parents and families in attendance. Other upgrades were music and art therapy, musical instruments, and interpreters for five languages to make the program accessible to more families.
  • Kent ISD’s Empowering Parents Professional Development. This was a new event, designed by parents, for parents. There was a wonderful agenda including a panel of parents and five breakout sessions that parents chose based on a survey. Breakout sessions included Self Care for Parents, Supporting Positive Behaviors, Raising a Successful Eater, Communication, and Kindergarten Readiness. During the continental breakfast, there was a keynote panel of parents with question-and-answer time. On their way out, everyone received a bag with five take-home items to correspond with each breakout including “My First Learn to Talk Book” a journal, and a sand timer.
  • Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) seized the opportunity to enhance caregiver learning through extended playgroups, offering both outdoor and infant/toddler-focused sessions. Families chose topics such as Music and Movement and Science and Sensory for these playgroups. The Lead Coach facilitated the sessions, with additional staff present to support parents and caregivers in delving deeper into learning while allowing for specific questions. Caregivers expressed gratitude for the valuable information shared, experiencing "Ah ha" moments as they connected their learning to their regular playgroup experiences. GRCC also introduced adult play options, distributing 100 Adult Play Kits to caregivers containing open-ended materials and information on various ways to use them, fostering creativity and flexibility. The initiative reflects the understanding that encouraging and supporting ongoing caregiver exploration of play is crucial for stress reduction, increased creativity, and enhanced problem-solving skills.
  • Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan. Through their parent initiative, they reached 35 households consisting of 151 individuals. Healthy Homes Coalitions' Ready by Five funded program focuses on educating families about ways to identify and reduce lead-based hazards in their home. While lead-based dangers in Kent County are commonly attributed to lead-based paint, an earlier community survey results showed that many individuals believed that lead-based dangers were related to water. Healthy Homes Coalition built a communication strategy around this data point. They offered families water testing and water filters that were accompanied by information to further educate individuals about the prevalence of lead-based paint. Each person also received a stainless-steel water bottle for their use and reuse to help cut down on plastic waste.
  • MomsBloom. MomsBloom connected with parents who were finished with their postpartum support within the last three years. The goal has been to increase their awareness of engagement ideas, reduce barriers to engagement opportunities, and see an increase in the actual engagement of parents. Some changes implemented include - adding social media posts that highlight different engagement opportunities, direct contact and info sharing to clients that received services within the last 3 years, and general newsletter information with this information.
  • Family Futures. With Prioritizing Parent funding, Family Futures was able to establish a parent café model, a nationally-recognized facilitation model that supports peer-to-peer learning, participants learning about the Protective Factors, and creating strategies from their wisdom and experiences to strengthen their families. The funding allowed Family Futures to send 25 people to a Be Strong Families Parent Cafe training. This included 20 Family Future staff and five community partners. Family Futures then hosted four parent cafes in Kent County – two in Cedar Springs and two in Grand Rapids. The cafes included child care for the parents and refreshments or dinner depending on the time they were scheduled. The cafes were held for two hours and featured conversations about the Strengthening Families Protective Factors, parent-to-parent sharing, and other parent-led topics.
  • Health Net of West Michigan. Health Net of West Michigan utilized Prioritizing Parents Funds to establish two groups of parents through the COFI (Community Organizing and Family Issues) training in Chicago in April 2023. This training focused on community advocacy and activism, teaching parents how to communicate with community members about challenges and mobilize strategies for solutions. The COFI training laid the groundwork for parent listening sessions and the formation of a parent advisory council, which will contribute to Health Net's quality control efforts by advocating for specific issues. The council aims to engage parents in community advocacy groups, providing education and a structured approach to lead the parent group effectively. Through sessions and interviews, the initiative gathered feedback and shared insights with other organizations and continues to work towards enhancing the overall experience for parents who are navigating the healthcare system.
  • Vibrant Futures. Vibrant Futures gathered parents to amplify their voices around issues related to child care. Using their knowledge of the issues, parents helped build the construction of a survey, giving feedback about questions. They also had parents help to distribute the survey, tapping into their social networks/institutions of trust. They had more than 400 respondents. Parents overwhelmingly said affordability was the number one issue. Forty-four percent said they are struggling to find child care and 56 percent said that the child care issue is creating stress and impacting their productivity. The report will be distributed in January.

“When we prioritize parents and core issues of what they need to support their children’s success, we provide opportunities for them to exercise their agency,” said Chana Edmond-Verley. “Parents have the potential to contribute profoundly. They have powerful insight and skills.”

To learn more about the Prioritizing Parents Fund or any of these initiatives, reach out to Megan Streng at

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