Fostering a Foundation to Learn, Grow, Dream



There are over 150 infants and toddlers on Children First program’s waitlist for early childhood education services. With that number of children’s learning opportunities being put on hold, and a great chance of them falling even further behind their peers, Children First enlisted the help of longtime partner Sarasota Housing Authority to take this community issue head on.

Sarasota Housing Authority CEO William Russell and Children First CEO Philip Tavill created a concept to allow some of those young learners on the waitlist to be placed into a high-quality early care environment. In January 2019, the project broke ground on the renovation of a previously-abandoned modular building. A number of dedicated local philanthropists pitched in their time and labor to bring the opportunity a reality, while PGT Innovations donated brand new windows for the building, and Shue-Kauffman Building & Roofing helped make the construction possible. Today, the lot is transformed into two education classrooms that will serve 16 infants and toddlers currently living in the Housing Authority, as well as provide critical services to help families achieve self-sufficiency and financial success.                           

“We are prioritizing early childhood development and literacy for our youngest residents so that they will be on a level playing field with their peers entering Kindergarten and be able to read on grade level by third-grade,” says Russell. “This will give our kids the best opportunity to succeed in school and life and break the generational cycle of poverty.”

This modular will be the 14th location across Sarasota County where Children First will be offering services to the community’s at-risk youth. Further expansion opportunities for early education classrooms are in the works, with another capital project moving forward in the redeveloped Janie’s Garden. The two organizations plan to continue to foster more foundations for young learners to “receive the same chance to learn, grow and dream”. 

“Every child is born with potential. Not every child is provided an opportunity,” says Tavill. “The opportunity that we have, as an agency, is to create our future through the hearts and minds of the children that we serve each year. We have shown proven success on a local and national scale, and we are deeply grateful for our supporters who recognize that, as long as we work together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish for children and families.”

Photo of local philanthropists Joan Levenson and Linda Monda, courtesy of Children First.

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