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GRCC awarded $1 million grant through Ready by Five Early Childhood millage to support youngest learners and their families

Jan. 6, 2022 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A $1 million grant from Kent County’s Ready by Five Early Childhood millage will support Grand Rapids Community College’s “Play and Learn” groups, helping the community’s youngest learners and their families.

The First Steps Kent Commission, which coordinates the millage funds, awarded the $1,009,459 grant, to be divided over 2022 and 2023. GRCC is one of 28 organizations sharing $9.7 million generated by the millage, which Kent County voters approved in 2018.

“When we say GRCC supports lifelong learning, that includes our community’s youngest residents,” GRCC President Bill Pink said. “Our Play and Learn groups strengthen the relationships between children, their families and caregivers, and their schools in order to make the transition into kindergarten as smooth, comfortable, and successful as possible. That solid foundation can help a student be more successful all along their educational journey. That helps them, their families, and our community as a whole.”

A Resident Proposal Review Board comprised of parents and community members reviewed all proposals requesting funding. The First Steps Kent Board of Commissioners signed off on the recommendations, which were approved by the Kent County Board of Commissioners this week.

“We continue to see a great need from families in Kent County,” said Annemarie Valdez, president of First Steps Kent. “The number of proposals we received exceeded the amount we had to allocate, which shows that this millage is necessary and continues to make an impact. We are grateful for the support of Kent County residents. This continues to be a vital investment in young children across our community and families need these resources now more than ever.”

GRCC’s Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory operates the Play and Learn groups for children up to age 5 to help parents and other caregivers learn skills and strategies to prepare for success in school. The groups meet at the preschool and six other locations, and the curriculum aligns with state Department of Education expectations for kindergarten readiness.

Rebecca Brinks, head of GRCC’s Education Department, said the grant funding is especially meaningful in light of a challenging year.

“Child development liaison Kathleen Neumann and her team have been so amazing in adapting this program to all the punches that the pandemic has thrown at them, and all their hard work is being rewarded,” Brinks said.

GRCC received $671,553 from the millage in 2020 to support the Play and Learn groups.

“We are so proud of the impact the Ready by Five millage is having on our community,” Kent County Administrator Al Vanderberg said. “These funds are significantly advancing the work of First Steps Kent and local community organizations to ensure every Kent County child enters kindergarten thriving and ready to learn.”

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