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2016 “Leave It Better Than You Found It” Award to Grinnell Education Partnership

The Grinnell Education Partnership, a collaboration of area institutions, employers and individuals committed to educational success, is the 2016 recipient of the “Leave It Better ThanYou Found It” award from the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation (CDAF).

The “Leave It Better ThanYou Found It” award commemorates the August birthday of the late benefactor Claude W. Ahrens. In a 1993 speech to the National Recreation and Parks Association, Ahrens challenged those in attendance to follow the sage advice of his father John, “to leave the world a better place than you found it.”  To date, more than 300 area individuals, groups and organizations have been honored by the annual recognition program.

The Grinnell Education Partnership was formed in 2012 with representation from the local school district, Grinnell College, area employers, community organizations, and volunteers to address the educational needs and gdaf4priorities of the greater Grinnell community. Initially the partnership focused on the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading, an effort to help all students read at grade level by completion of third grade, a predictor of high school outcomes and success. A 2015 AmeriCorps grant, administered by Grinnell College, provided funding for more than 40 AmeriCorps members to implement action plans for the grade-level reading project, as well as a skills gap initiative to ensure employability of high school students. The college recently secured a second year of AmeriCorps funding to continue partnership efforts to address school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers, skills gap, family and community engagement, after-school enrichment, and volunteer resources.

 CDAF President and CEO Julie Gosselink said the education partnership was selected for the award because of the partnership’s highly collaborative community involvement and effective success during its initial stages.

“The Grinnell Education Partnership is fully dedicated to helping children and families in our community be successful now and in the future. The impressive volunteer commitment, the extensive outreach to children at allgdaf5 levels, the effective collaboration across community groups—all of these efforts are in the spirit of the “Leave It Better” recognition,” Gosselink said.

The Grinnell Education Partnership will receive a $5,000 grant and traveling trophy from CDAF as part of the foundation’s annual recognition of area groups making a difference. The traveling trophy will be displayed at each of the AmeriCorps host sites.

Monica Chavez-Silva, assistant vice-president for community enhancement and engagement at Grinnell College, expressed appreciation for the local recognition and reflected on the partnership’s work-to-date.

“Year One exceeded our expectations. The amount of creative energy and work by more than 165 volunteers serving on our taskforce groups has been phenomenal. Since late winter, these groups have created new programs, recruited and trained volunteers, communicated with kids and families, and put their plans into action,” she said. “We are grateful for the Leave It Better Award which will help to keep the momentum going in Year Two,” she said.

Chavez-Silva pointed to the following examples of taskforce outcomes to date: summer afternoon enrichment program for K-3 summer school students; expansion of Drake Community Library’s “In Your Neighborhood” programming; kindergarten readiness summer camp; high school internship program at Grinnell Mutual gdaf2Reinsurance Company; after-school activities at Grinnell Area Arts Center and Grinnell Community Daycare and Preschool; “Wellness Wednesdays” at elementary schools; “Wellness at the Market” at Farmers’ Market; support for Mileage Club activities at elementary schools; community-wide volunteer database; web and community meal outreach to families; summer-school outreach and family peer support to increase attendance; and #Read Everyday Grinnell ”million-minute” reading program.

In addition to the federal AmeriCorps grant administered by Grinnell College, private funds are needed to support the work of taskforces that in turn work directly with local students. To date, more than $30,000 in contributions have been made to the partnership fund, including $10,000 grants each from CDAF and Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, plus support from Connected and private individual gifts.

The Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation (GPCF) serves as the fiscal agent for the Grinnell Education Partnership. GPCF Executive Director Nicole Brua-Behrens said the Foundation first learned about the Grade-Level Reading program through the Iowa Council of Foundations. Today Grinnell is one of 10 Iowa communities involved in the national reading program.

“Our community understands the importance and urgency of having our students develop good learning habits so gdaf3they have a strong start to succeed and a strong finish at graduation. It takes an entire community to make a program like this work, and our community has stepped up in multiple ways, multiple times,” Brua-Behrens said.

Groups and individuals who wish to contribute to the Grinnell Education Partnership may contact Brua-Behrens at nicole@greaterpcf.org, 641-236-5518.

Volunteers interested in supporting any of the AmeriCorps taskforces may contact Chavez-Silva at chavezsm@grinnell.edu, 641-269-3900.

Information about the Leave It Better Award is available at http://ahrensfamilyfoundation.org/leave-it-better-awards/.

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