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New initiative will invest in early childhood system improvements across Detroit


I hope that these early days of 2016 have filled you with renewed purpose and energy. Here at The Kresge Foundation, that has certainly been the case. On Jan. 7, we shared some big news: the launch of the Kresge Early Years for Success (KEYS): Detroit initiative. This is the next phase of our long-standing work in our hometown, a $20-million, 5-year commitment to remake the early childhood space in the city.

Putting this city’s young people on paths to healthy, engaged, and productive lives has proved to be a daunting, seemingly insurmountable challenge. And yet, until we do, and until Detroit is deemed a viable place to raise a family and secure a quality education, all of our other efforts to revitalize and renew our community will be in jeopardy.

There have been no absence of attempts to improve outcomes for kids enrolled in our K-12 system; we can only hope that we will summon the collective courage and creativity and political resolve to usher the kind of change that our children need and deserve. As those efforts progress, we need to mount a parallel effort at the very front-end of the educational spectrum by ensuring that every child in the city of Detroit enters kindergarten ready to learn and succeed – academically, emotionally, developmentally. We can’t wait any longer to focus on these kids – they deserve our investment now.

Through KEYS: Detroit, Kresge wants to tackle a number of interconnected issues within the expansive early childhood system, including:

  • Investments in new, comprehensive early childhood centers;
  • Below-market loans to improve current early childhood development facilities and to improve maternal healthcare services;
  • Grants to support neighborhood early childhood collaborations and early childhood practitioners;
  • Investments that draw national early childhood experience and expertise to Detroit; and
  • Co-formation with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of a leadership alliance that will bring together stakeholders from across all sectors in Detroit to create framework to guide investments and actions on behalf of the city’s youngest children.

IFF, a nonprofit focused on early childhood development issues, recently issued a report documenting a gap of 28,000 high-quality early childhood care seats across the city. That shortage underscores the urgency of both adding new multi-service early childhood centers and renovating, improving and expanding those that are already providing quality services to children.

But expanding and improving the places early childhood services are provided is only part of the puzzle. We have to support those who are providing these essential services. We have to expand our spectrum of supports to mothers. We have to attract national early childhood expertise and other funders to the city to inject creative ideas and proven effective practices into the mix. And, perhaps most importantly, we have to develop and cement ways of working with leaders from all sectors – public, private, nonprofit, faith, and community – to define and envision what the future system for young children should, and can, look like, how it can function, and how we can bring it to life. We want to evolve a playbook that we can all work from, amplifying and aligning all future efforts to support young children.

We believe that these actions represent a vitally important inflection point in a city that, out of necessity and out of choice, has had to embrace dramatic and profound changes in course.

Although there is no guarantee of success, this is a time to cut from our safe moorings and take aim at outcomes that will shape the heart and soul of our community’s future.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can read our official launch press release or my opinion letter that ran on Jan. 8, 2016 in the Detroit Free Press. You might also be interested to view an animated video prepared by IFF that explains the early childhood access data reported in its report, “The System We Need: A Neighborhood Snapshot of Early Childhood Care in Detroit.” It’s available on the Kresge website.

We can’t – and won’t – do this alone. The network of leaders from all sectors that we’re beginning to assemble will engage hundreds of stakeholders and residents. We need everyone who cares about young children to join us. If you think there is a role for you, reach out to Wendy Lewis Jackson, our Deputy Director, Detroit, who is leading our KEYS: Detroit efforts. [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

Thank you in advance for your support.