Amy Roche, a teacher with The Nest at New Hope children’s program, reads to Maddie Betz (left) and Nicole Urban. Photo by Martin Boling


Research has long recognized that when children attend quality preschool programs, they are more likely to succeed in school and in life. To ensure that kind of success locally, the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County (CFBMC) has launched Thrive by Five, an endowment campaign with a goal of raising $1 million to support early childhood education.

With a lead gift of $100,000 from local businessman Elliot Lewis and his family, the endowment is officially named the Lewis Fund for Early Childhood Education.

“Any time you can help little kids have successful opportunities in their lives, I don’t think you can do any better,” says Lewis, president of Cedarview Management. “And the more we can create pathways for children to succeed, the more productive our community will be.”

The need for preschool programs in the county is growing, says Tina Peterson, president and CEO of CFBMC. “The work is bigger than the resources we have now,” she says. “The endowment will be a sustainable source of funds to support and grow existing preschool programs at all early learning sites in the community.”

Citing research by economist James Heckman, Peterson notes investing in children makes sound economic sense: Communities that invest in quality early learning programs recognize a return of seven dollars for every dollar spent because families and children are more likely to prosper.

Money from the endowment will be used to sustain Monroe Smart Start, a CFBMC initiative that has invested more than $1.2 million in early learning programs since 2009; to increase access to programs; and to provide training for educators.

Thrive by Five will also support On My Way Pre-K, the first state-funded pre-kindergarten program, which requires matching funds from the local community. The program rolls out in Monroe County in August. Funds are available for up to 200 children for the 2018–19 academic year.

“With matching state funds, here was the opportunity to place kids for free in a daycare program that will benefit them educationally and socially and allow for parents to return to the workforce,” Lewis says.

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