Putting Children First

Our children are our most precious and vulnerable resource, something the Early Learning Coalition of Lake County understands well. The organization’s goal is to make sure each and every child care provider in Lake County has the opportunity to thrive and succeed—giving children a valuable educational start to life. The coalition oversees Lake County’s VPK program for area four-year-olds and also oversees the school readiness program, which offers services for subsidized childcare, for children up to age 12, as well as assistance for special needs children 13-17. With a budget of $12.8 million, the ELC provides services to more than 5,000 Lake County children on an annual basis.

ELC’s Executive Director Lesha Coffield says the coalition’s goal is to ensure each child is ready to learn by kindergarten. She says high-quality early learning environments offer our children the best resources and opportunities.

“Our mission is to support and educate parents, early childhood professionals, and the community as we collaborate to provide the highest quality early learning programs for our children,” adds Will Pruitt, Lake County’s ELC chairman of the board.

Pruitt, who was appointed chairman by Florida’s governor, has an extensive history as a child advocate, including supporting and helping initiate the governor’s A+ school reform program. Named Lake County’s 2006 Childcare Provider’s Man of the Year, Pruitt holds childcare workers in high regard, explaining that they are not in their line of work for the money.

“They do it for their love of children,” he says. “They are dedicated to making things better for the children and their parents.”

That’s why the ELC has begun a first-of-its-kind mini-grant initiative to assist child care providers in marketing themselves and becoming more engaged in the business aspect of their profession.

“I get plenty of calls from center owners asking how they can increase their enrollment,” Coffield says. “We can offer a variety of suggestions about advertising, technology, and communications, but knowing that these questions are being asked is why we developed this mini-grant. It was a natural progression toward helping our early learning centers become more successful.”

Lesha Coffield and Will Pruitt

“Of course, growing their business would result in more money for the centers,” Pruitt adds, “but it will also result in offering more quality services to the children, while still keeping the child-to-teacher ratio intact.”

Pruitt notes that when business prospers, children at the centers have more access to tangible learning tools like books and computers.

As an incentive to encourage the more than 175 center owners in Lake County to grow their business, the ELC is offering mini-grants once a quarter to the center that achieves the highest rating based on the ELC’s specified criteria.

“We use a variety of monitoring scales when looking at the centers,” Pruitt says.

Each quarter, the center receiving the grant will have the opportunity to be featured in one of Lake County’s media outlets, including a full-page advertisement in Lake & Sumter Style—literally reaching thousands of potential clients.

Coffield adds that a joint committee was developed to design the mini-grant program and the final details are still being worked out.

“The mini-grants will be developed so that the child care facility that is awarded the money will have access to a variety of resources to help grow their business, including continuing education courses at local community colleges,” she says.

Coffield encourages local child care providers to get active with their local chambers. Networking is an integral step toward their success.

“We have wonderful child care facilities in Lake County,” Coffield says. “These mini-grants are a way to get their names out there. Once the guidelines are established, we’ll make sure everyone has the opportunity to achieve it, get the reward, and receive the grant to benefit their center and their kids.”

Early Learning Coalition
1504 South Street, Leesburg • (352) 435-0566www.Elclc.org

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