The Capital Area United Way announced Tuesday that it plans to spend the next decade working to make sure that children in the 10 parishes it serves are ready to learn by the time they enter school.
“We’re going to look back 10 years from now and see more children ready for school, 20 years see more of them with jobs,” said Karen Profita, president and chief executive officer of the local United Way.
Improving the lives and learning of young children is key to bring about such results, speakers told about 90 people Tuesday gathered in the LSU Stadium Club for the local United Way’s annual meeting.
“There’s so much potential during those first three years that’s untapped,” said Dr. Stewart Gordon, chief of pediatrics at LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center and a new member of the United Way’s board of directors.
Gordon revealed a chart showing that while most of the intellectual growth and brain development is in those earliest years of life, most public spending focuses on much older children.
“It’s time to close the gap between what we know and what we do,” Gordon told the audience.
The decision to tackle early childhood education is what’s known as “impact funding” and has been three years in the making for the organization.
Profita said it is part of a larger shift at United Ways across the country away from traditional grants to disparate charities and nonprofits, but that the Capital Area United Way is trying to blend the two models.
“We need to be known for the impact we have in the community and not just the dollars we spread around,” Profita said.
Settling on early childhood education resulted from more than 100 meetings with the heads of local companies and community surveys, asking people the issues that the United Way should address.
“What we heard over and over again was education, education, education,” Profita said.
Gordon pointed to several research studies showing that having high quality education for the youngest children improves not only the lives of those children, but also has a large return on investment for society in general.
At the same time, many children — as many as 80 percent in at least one study, Gordon said — need at least some remedial help to catch up with their school-ready peers when they arrive at school.
Connected with its overarching goal of getting children ready for school, the Capital Area United Way has selected five “outcomes” it aims to bring about over the next 10 years:
• Birth outcomes improve.
• Parents are engaged, supported and educated to meet the needs of young children.
• All children have access to quality child care and preschool.
• All children’s physical health and safety needs are met.
• Children’s social-emotional health needs are met.
To help produce these outcomes, the local United Way plans to direct more and more financial support to existing efforts to deal with those problems as well as generate new initiatives, Profita said.
The local United Way released a timeline saying that by December it will announce indicators of progress and ways of measuring that progress, and that by June, the initial initiatives will be under way.
Gordon is serving as the chairman of the effort, and Geoff Nagle, an associate professor in psychiatry, is serving as adviser.
Michele Robinson, senior vice president for community investment, said in an interview with The Advocate that new programs created will in many cases start out small and grow over time, and the local United Way will try to layer them onto existing efforts.
Robinson said the organization has been setting aside some money each year and has about $250,000 to start this campaign. But she said the organization plans to start raising money in addition to its traditional workplace campaigns and to land outside grants.
Jay O’Brien, the outgoing board chairman of the Capital Area United Way, told the audience that the United Way will adjust and make changes as necessary as it figures out what to do.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s never so for something worthwhile.”
The local United Way serves residents in the following parishes: East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston, Iberville, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena and St. James.