Guadalupe Center is expanding its Smart Start family literacy program as the first licensed Grace Place Family Literacy Model (GPFLM) partner, which ensures additional Immokalee parents can learn skills to guide their children toward academic and social success.

Since the partnership started, about 50 Immokalee families have registered to participate in Smart Start, but that number could double as the new partnership progresses. Guadalupe Center’s Smart Start Program has adopted the Grace Place Family Literacy Model, shaped by Grace Place’s Bright Beginnings program, which includes Parent Time, Adult Education, Early Childhood Education, and Parent and Child Together Time (PACT). A three-year grant from the Bill & Julia Van Domelen Foundation will help pay for academic materials, supplies and a full-time teacher to oversee the program.

Guadalupe Center’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee, while Grace Place aims to provide pathways out of poverty by educating children and families. The Van Domelen Foundation awards grants that enhance education, health care and housing for lower-income youth and families.

“This partnership blends three organizations committed to the same cause – giving local families the tools that will help their children succeed,” said Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center. “We hope to show every parent just how much impact a high-quality early childhood education can have on a child and how it sets up children for future academic, social and behavioral success.”

Smart Start utilizes the Grace Place Family Literacy Model’s high-quality curriculum to address cultural, social, financial, language and transportation barriers that can prevent Immokalee parents from exploring opportunities for an early childhood education. Weekly courses show parents how to facilitate in-home learning and ensure that children are reaching age-appropriate developmental milestones.

Guadalupe Center has plans to expand its Early Childhood Education Program, which serves more than 300 students but has a waiting list that surpasses 500 children. The greatest need is for programs that serve children up to 3 years old. Smart Start helps families whose children are not enrolled in Guadalupe Center’s NAEYC-accredited Early Childhood Education Program or another early learning program in Immokalee by preparing the parent to be the child’s first teacher.

Grace Place formed in 2004 and has expanded to serve more than 1,100 students in the Golden Gate area of Collier County. Its Bright Beginnings program, the basis for the GPFLM, aims to cultivate confident, capable and literate parents who are prepared to guide their children through the crucial years of early development.

“Grace Place shares a similar vision and mission as Guadalupe Center and respects the work they are doing with young children in Immokalee,” said Tim Ferguson, CEO of Grace Place. This partnership enables Guadalupe Center to expand its work with children and families, and Grace Place is excited to be a partner in this journey.”

The Van Domelen Foundation has invested in Grace Place to provide a “helpful hand up” to those living in the underserved community of Golden Gate. The Foundation is based in Michigan but supports charitable causes throughout Southwest Florida.

“As funders, the Foundation wants to be certain that our investments are not only impactful to each individual they serve, but aimed at sustainable ventures that create lasting change for communities. What I admire about the Grace Place Family Literacy Model is its family approach to a solution,” said Julia Van Domelen, president of the Bill & Julia Van Domelen Foundation. “I’ve seen firsthand the impact of this model. The opportunity to ensure its extension to the families of Immokalee inspires me. I couldn’t think of better partners than Guadalupe Center and Grace Place.”

The Foundation is providing a three-year grant worth $377,750 to fund the integration of the Grace Place Family Literacy Model and expansion of Smart Start. Weekly classes will be held at five locations to serve different geographic locations of Immokalee: Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, Eden Garden Apartments, Guadalupe Center, Crestview Apartments and the Immokalee Branch Library.