Ask Iman Al Kanfaf what she likes about the Educare program and she will tell you enthusiastically, “everything.” Her husband, Mohamed, matches her enthusiasm. They currently have two daughters enrolled in the program. Their oldest, Jaida, has graduated to kindergarten at Sheridan School. “We love it, love it, love it,” she says.
If you’ve driven along north 14th Street, you might have noticed the shiny addition that was added to the north end of Belmont School in 2013. Step inside and you’ll find a state-of-the art space with classrooms designed specifically for babies as well as toddlers and preschoolers. Add to that, hallways with miniature performance spaces tucked into a corner, observation rooms with one-way mirrors and plenty of meeting rooms for teachers and families. You know you’re in a special place.
The building and its program comprise Educare Lincoln, one of just 20 Educare schools nationwide. A part of the Buffet Early Childhood Fund, Educare schools better prepare young children of low-income families for success in school. Educare Lincoln partners include the University of Nebraska, Lincoln Public Schools, and Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties (CAP). United Way funding supports CAP’s provision of comprehensive educational supports as part of its Early Head Start and Head Start program. “These programs make sure that children reach developmental milestones so they are ready for school,” says Robin McDannel, senior director of community impact at United Way, “which is one of our key focus areas.”
Aaron Bowen, a nine-year veteran with CAP, currently leads the day-to-day operations at Educare. “We are constantly looking at data to determine how we’re doing,” he says. With many state, federal, and Educare Learning Network standards, “the bar is set very high here,” Bowen says. “We’re never stagnant, we want to be at the forefront of high-quality early childhood education. Our families deserve this opportunity.”
According to Bowen, the one thing that makes this a special place is the involvement of families such as the Al Kanfaf’s. Imam and Mohamed found help when their daughter was having behavioral issues, “She changed completely,” Imam said. “We were so glad to have that help. It changed everything.” When daughter Maida was unhooking her car seat and climbing out while Iman was driving, staff helped her to find a seat that was more secure. As Libyan refugees, they’ve also had help coping with loneliness and the fear they feel for their families back home.
“Programs like Educare demonstrate what collaboration can do to help children and families in our community,” says Brian Wachman, executive director at United Way. “That’s why United Way dollars can make such a difference.”