Childhood education, especially programs aimed at improving literacy in the central San Joaquin Valley, received a $575,000 boost from the Fresno Regional Foundation on Thursday.
Leaders of the nonprofit foundation -- which covers six counties from Merced to Kings -- say funding for education is their top priority in divvying up dollars this year from a new multimillion fund.
Committee members looked at many Valley issues to address and found that all were rooted in the need to "invest early" in children and their families.
"Whether it was crime, poverty, unemployment or the environment, it all kept pointing to early intervention and preparing a child for success by the third grade," said committee member Angie Cisneros, who is the retired head of Fresno State's adult re-entry program.
Third grade is an important milestone, said the foundation, because after third grade a child must transition from "learning to read, to reading to learn."
The grants were announced at an afternoon event at the Fresno Art Museum. The recipients are:
-- Reading and Beyond, Building Foundations for Children and Families in Fresno: $200,000 for its Grade Level Reading Program.
-- Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District in Tulare County: $200,000 for its Cutler-Orosi Family Literacy Project.
-- Center for Transnational Health, University of California, Davis: $100,000 for "Puente Cultural: Bridging Cultures to Close the Latino Achievement Gap" in five Valley school districts.
-- Woodlake Family Resource Center in Tulare County: $75,000 for its Path to Literacy project.
After reviewing 32 grant requests, an eight-member committee made its recommendations to the foundation's 15-member board, said Sandra Flores, senior program officer for the nonprofit.
This is the second year the foundation, created in 1966, has awarded "high impact" grants from The Fund for the San Joaquin Valley. Last year, it awarded five grants -- also focused on early childhood education -- totaling $600,000.
The James Irvine Foundation provided $3 million to get the fund started.
The Fresno Regional Foundation hopes to award $1 million in grants every year, but besides the $3 million donation, the fund has only raised about $200,000, Flores said.
Marla Hartman, a Tulare County business owner, donor and board member for the foundation, said she likes that the nonprofit pulls together input from professionals and leaders throughout the region, who determine what the Valley's biggest problems are and how to solve them.
"I like that because it will be able to change over time," Hartman said. "As we solve one problem, we'll be able to look at the next."
YOU CAN HELP: Donations can be made to The Fund for the San Joaquin Valley online at http://www.fresnoregfoundation.org/giving/donate.html or checks can be made out to the Fresno Regional Foundation with "The Fund for the San Joaquin Valley" in the memo line and mailed to 5250 North Palm Avenue, Suite 424, Fresno CA 93704
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