Improving early childhood through locally focused philanthropic partnerships


As 2022 draws to a close, we’re taking a moment to express gratitude for the placed-based funders that make so much of our work possible. With their partnerships and philanthropic support, we can test out new ideas, reach under-resourced populations, and impact specific geographies.

These place-based projects are crucial to LENA’s growth as an organization. They allow for proof of concept across a variety of systems, leading to sustainability through public funding or inclusion in recurring budget cycles. Deepening our reach through this intentional and targeted work alongside our direct service partners solidifies the value of LENA programs.

Through philanthropic partnerships, we can accelerate uptake of LENA programming, with an eye toward future large-scale partnerships. Scaling up and innovating are only possible when high-impact pilot programs set the groundwork.

Community Innovation and Resilience for Care and Learning Equity (CIRCLE)

A grant opportunity from the Colorado Department of Early Childhood will allow LENA to serve additional dual-language and multilingual early childhood providers and children throughout the state. Funding supports a targeted approach for both scaling LENA Grow within these populations and strengthening organizational capacity to best serve these children and teachers through translated materials and culturally responsive program improvements.

Child Care in the Colorado Front Range

This second year of partnership with the Daniels Fund enables LENA to more than double its child care reach in the Colorado Front Range. We’re also looking at how we can maintain program impact as we scale, ensuring that the interactions children experience continue to increase even as LENA Grow expands. Among the new partnerships catalyzed through this grant are Catholic Charities of Denver and Jefferson County Head Start.

Understanding Parent Engagement

With funding from Gary Community Ventures, LENA is undergoing an intentional expansion of the scope of existing Denver-based partnerships to better understand how to support parent engagement in LENA’s family-focused program, LENA Start. This expansion includes rapid cycle testing of program changes relating to parent recruitment, parent retention, and layering of LENA programming. Our partners in this work include Denver Public Library, Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County, and Triad Early Childhood Council.

Expanding Pilot Sites Exponentially

In partnership with Birmingham Talks, this funding opportunity from Hearst Foundations will expand the already impressive footprint of LENA Grow in Birmingham, Ala. Through strong leadership and community support, LENA Grow is poised to scale exponentially to serve approximately 25% of the children in Birmingham, with a strong commitment to serve children most impacted by educational inequity. This program expansion will serve as a model for best practices and lessons learned, culminating in a convening to share findings on LENA Grow’s impact on early childhood outcomes and professional development for the early childhood workforce in Birmingham.

Socio-Emotional Development Impacts in Washington, D.C.

Preschoolers in an FCC home in Washington, D.C., on one of their LENA Days.

In the fall of 2022, LENA completed an 18-month project in Washington, D.C., that focused on the socio-emotional impact of LENA Grow in family child care (FCC) and center-based environments. The Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund provided grant support to launch and accelerate the project, which ultimately allowed LENA to demonstrate the positive socio-emotional impacts of LENA Grow and more deeply understand the complexities of implementing LENA Grow in under-resourced FCC networks.

Supporting Family Child Care in New York City

Thanks to the support of Stella & Charles Guttman Foundation and Viking Global Foundation, LENA Grow is launching in New York City. This work will leverage the existing networks of local partners Queens Community House and Grand Street Settlement to deliver LENA Grow’s strengths-based curriculum and “talk pedometer” technology to FCC providers across the city. Findings from these pilots will inform future work with additional FCCs and ensure alignment with the broader priorities of the New York City Department of Education.

Improving Professional Development and Adding Capacity on the Ground

Two of our implementation partners work with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to bring LENA programming to their educators and children. In Mississippi, W.K. Kellogg supports the Mississippi Head Start Association. In New Mexico, they’ve invested in Youth Development, Inc., a child care organization operating in Albuquerque. This critical philanthropic funding helps each of these grantees to improve their professional development offerings and add capacity to their programs.

Looking Forward

The philanthropic community’s investment in local initiatives helps LENA work with our program partners to adapt and expand LENA’s technology, programs, and resources in ways that best fit their needs. Whether it’s conducting rapid cycle testing of new ideas, evaluating a new dimension of impact, or bringing additional support to local educators and families, we look forward to many more exciting projects in 2023.

Jen Rhodes

Jen is the Philanthropy Project Lead for LENA. She joined LENA after spending four years as a Program Officer for a place-based funder in Colorado. She has spent the rest of her career so far working to support child-focused nonprofits across a variety of focus areas, including health promotion, advocacy, and international development. She has an MA in Public Health, with a specialization in policy and advocacy.

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