LYNN — Three Lynn non-profit agencies are among the recipients of grants given by the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation for their work with early childhood development.
Lynn Economic Opportunity, Lynn Family & Children’s Services and the JOI Child Care Center received grants that the bank presented to organizations that strengthen options for children and families across Massachusetts, CEO Bob Rivers said.
In its 25 years of existence, Eastern has dedicated a portion of its charitable giving to community groups, and Rivers said that persistent gaps in the quality and access to early childhood development can cause disparities in opportunities for success later in life.
The grants, totaling $1 million, include one for $500,000 to Boston Basics and $500,000 that will be spread throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
“What motivates us to do this is what motivates us to do many of the things we do in terms of community service,” Rivers said. “We want to address issues of economic disparity because we desire to lift up people.
“Also, this economic disparity tends to be exacerbated in areas where there are people of color,” he said. “So much development happens in the earliest years of the lives of children, and if not set well, that will carry through the rest of their lives.”
One way this manifests itself is in reading and its effects on children.
“If you look at advantaged kids, versus kids of people receiving aid, advantaged kids know 30 million more words.That’s one of the advantages well-off kids have. They’re just exposed to more. So those gaps are already established and they’re never fully narrowed, no matter how good the school is. This carries through to later in life.”
The disparity also makes it tough to motivate students to stay in school, he said.
“If you look at dropout rates, students who cannot read by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school,” Rivers said. “These kids come to school with different readiness than the ones who are advantaged.
“This all starts at home. The ability of parents to read to their children, and communicate with them. Less-advantaged families often work two jobs and are just getting by, and don’t have the time to spend. The cycle of poverty continues and it gets exacerbated. These kids never catch up.”
Lisa McFadden, director of development and communications for LEO, said this was the first year Eastern went through invitation-only process.
“They used to call these Target-Area Grants. This year, they were called Impact-Area Grants. I believe only 100 or so were invited to apply.
“We were thrilled to receive the invitation,” she said. “Eastern has been such a tremendous partner for Lynn for a long time. A $10,000 grant can be a game-changer for us.”
McFadden said the proposal LEO submitted to Eastern focused on providing training for early-childhood educators.
“The need is widespread across Massachusetts,” McFadden said. “Especially with immigrant families, recent refugees, low-income families or those living in poverty.
“It ranges from food and shelter and security to issues surrounding substance use or abuse, or incarceration, or, more recently, deportation. These are all situations we have dealt with at LEO with our families.”
Another issue is “trauma-informed, or trauma-response,” which, McFadden said, essentially mean the same thing.
“How are we dealing with an individual or a family with knowledge at our fingertips about how to help them with their trauma?” she asked. “We need to have the expertise to help them manage their trauma.”
JOI Child Care’s needs are more immediate. The agency moved last year from Wheeler Street to occupy space formerly occupied by KIPP Academy at Holy Family Church on Bessom Street. Ironically, the move was necessitated by KIPP’s purchase of the J.B. Blood Building, where JOI was formerly located.
“Our recent moves have put a strain on our resources,” said Michelle Merson, the agency’s director. “We will use the money to create more indoor and outdoor seating for both our children and our staff. We will also be able to replace worn or torn rest mats.”
Family & Children’s Service is a community-based nonprofit that supports underserved and socially vulnerable populations to build stable, productive and healthy lives. It strives to strengthen the life skills of families, children and individuals of all ages through a range of programs offered directly or in collaboration with other organizations in the community.
“We are honored to be the recipient of this grant,” said executive director Maroli Licardie. “Eastern Bank has been a tremendous partner in supporting families in Lynn. This grant will go a long way in addressing the needs of parents by providing education and support.”
Family & Children’s Service will use the funds to provide parenting skills education classes, home visiting, story hours, support groups and monthly cultural events.