Early childhood investments that impact more than just kidsBy Jenna Ovett
Sheltering Arms, Georgia’s largest nonprofit early childhood education program, has been transforming the lives of children in need and their families through high-quality education, childcare, and comprehensive support services since 1888. After nearly 130 years of service, the impact of their programming can be seen from generation to generation: Just recently, the nonprofit received a letter from a former student, now 74 years old, recalling how her love for learning started at Sheltering Arms. Over time, it has become apparent that their investment in early childhood education and related programming does more than help children: It strengthens communities too.
Research shows that enhancing the cognitive and social development of kids through high-quality early education can significantly reduce not just the need for remedial programming, special education, and social services, but the number of criminal offenses in a given community. Children who receive such services are also more likely to be healthier, earn higher incomes, and pay more taxes throughout their lives. Additionally, comprehensive support systems like those offered by Sheltering Arms can strengthen a parent’s job stability and lead to higher wages.
As such, these programs produce large-scale economic benefits that far exceed their costs. In the case of Sheltering Arms, they’ve shown returns ranging from $9 to $17 per dollar invested—and that’s in addition to the hundreds of direct investments that Sheltering Arms makes throughout Metro Atlanta. Their strategy, said President and CEO Blythe Keeler Robinson, is based on a simple fact revealed by the research: “The earlier you start, the higher your return on investment.”
This fall, Sheltering Arms will be celebrating a highly-anticipated new piece of that investment strategy by opening their 16th location in Metro Atlanta, a state-of-the-art early learning center on the campus of D.H. Stanton Elementary School in Peoplestown. Providing support services that address families’ needs from educational, health, social capital, and economic perspectives, it will be a key component of the area’s “cradle‐to‐college” education pipeline, and should make a significant impact on Peoplestown’s urban renewal and economic development efforts. “We’re excited about the new center at D.H. Stanton because it expands our capacity to give more children, regardless of background, the opportunity for a top-notch early education, childhood, and future,” said Robinson.
The 27,000-square-foot building will serve 180 children and their families. The center’s innovative design puts all spaces to use in enhancing learning. Hallways, for example, will feature textures and manipulatives like pebble walls, which gives children the chance to engage their motor skills while walking through the building. The playground will mimic the topography of the state of Georgia: tall trees will represent the mountainous region; a rolling hill alongside the building will represent the Piedmont Plateau; and the southeast corner will be reserved for water play and gardening, representing the coastal plains. This creative, playful approach to learning, alongside a developmentally-targeted, nationally-based curriculum, results in 92 percent of participating children meeting or exceeding developmental milestones.
Sheltering Arms recognizes that quality education can be both the cause and the effect of a healthy community: Once developed, a safe and supportive environment allows children to focus on learning and to envision a future of opportunity.
To learn more about early childhood education, and related trends in the industry, Sheltering Arms hosts a semi-annual thought leadership panel, Cocktails and Conversation. This fall’s event will be held October 19th, where panelists will be discussing the two-generation approach, which focuses on supporting children and their parents together. They also provide great resources to those following them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Additionally, Sheltering Arm’s largest fundraiser, Celebration Dinner, will be held on September 30th at Porsche Cars North America. As always, volunteers are welcome to read or engage in other activities at participating locations.
Jenna Ovett is communications coordinator at GCN.