Kent County approves $2.6M for Ready by Five millage

The Kent County board of commissioners approved nearly $2.6 million in funding for the Ready by Five Early Childhood millage to provide continued services for families in the county.

The funds were approved after a Resident Proposal Review Committee, comprised of parents and community members, reviewed proposals and made recommendations to the First Steps Kent Board of Commissioners.

“The proposals and funding decisions show that agencies have what it takes to meet parents and children where they are during this moment in our history,” said Annemarie Valdez, president of First Steps Kent. “We are grateful for the support of Kent County residents. This is a vital investment in young children across our community, and families need these resources now more than ever.”

The funding will be distributed to community-based organizations throughout 2021 and 2022 to meet community needs, including improving the health of babies at birth, providing tools for families to nurture early learning at home and ensuring that services and information are available in multiple languages.

“The Ready by Five millage supports our local agencies in providing programs that will help our children succeed in their early education and beyond,” Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt said. “Since this millage was voted on by Kent County residents, we will continue to ensure these funds are used wisely to address the needs of our diverse community and to enrich the foundation for children.”

The following programs and organizations will receive funding starting January 2021 and continuing through December 2022:

Navigation and outreach: These services connect expectant parents and parents of young children to resources and programs that support healthy child development and early learning. Navigation and outreach recipients include Family Futures, Health Net of West Michigan, Bethany Christian Services, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Family Promise of Grand Rapids and West Michigan Partnership for Children. Navigation and outreach service providers were awarded a total of $1,738,422.

Healthy development programs: Three programs were awarded a total of $635,075.

  • Family Futures will provide early education learning toolkits to families for use at home during the pandemic.
  • Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative will provide support to meet the behavioral and emotional needs of young children in its early education programs.
  • The Kent County Health Department will run the Fetal Infant Mortality Review Network for Kent County, which will investigate infant and fetal deaths to improve healthy births within the county.

Translation and interpretation services: These agencies will provide interpretation and translation services (in-person, telephone and written) to families enrolled in programs funded by Ready by Five. Languages include, but are not limited to, Spanish, Nepali, Kinyarwanda, Serbo-Croatian, Swahili, Burmese, American Sign Language, Vietnamese, and Karen. Bethany Christian Services, Hispanic Center of West Michigan and Liaison Linguistics were awarded a total of $210,000.

Kent County voters approved the Ready by Five Early Childhood millage on Nov. 6, 2018. The six-year millage generates approximately $5.7 million of funding annually for community-based early childhood programs.