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Focus Grant 2022 & 2023: Supporting Early Learning in the Wood River Valley

On March 23, 2022, WRWF announced that the winner of the first-ever Focus Grant was the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (Idaho AEYC). WRWF and Idaho AEYC will partner to establish the Wood River Valley Early Learning Collaborative. The purpose of the Early Learning Collaborative is to create an early education community for all young children, especially those from underserved families. 

Research shows the early years are a time of remarkable brain growth in children and lay the foundation for subsequent learning and development. Up-front investments in quality care and early education translate into direct returns for the State, our communities and society as a whole. The Idaho AEYC is the only organization in the state whose mission focuses on creating high-quality childcare and preschool programs that are accessible to all who need them. In 19 other communities, the Idaho AEYC has successfully mobilized and amplified local resources and talent to achieve transformational results in early children’s learning opportunities. 

“Idaho AEYC respects and recognizes that each community’s early education needs and challenges are unique across the state,” said Beth Oppenheimer, Executive Director, Idaho AEYC. “The program development process—overseen by an Early Learning Advisory Council—involves diverse stakeholders who have a role in early childhood education and childcare. We are thrilled to partner with WRWF on taking the initiative to focus on this critical need in Blaine County.”  

“Up to 45 percent of the Blaine County student body is of Hispanic origin and 23 percent of those students are emergent English speakers, meaning they have very little English when they enter school,” said Louisa Moats, WRWF Focus Grant 2022 Co-Chair and nationally recognized early learning and education expert. “According to the State’s classification system, 69 percent of White students in Blaine County are proficient in reading between kindergarten and 3rd grade, but only 33 percent of the Hispanic/Latino Spanish-speaking students meet those standards. Not only is the difference in Blaine County striking, it is most likely preventable.” 

The Wood River Early Learning Collaborative strategy during the first two years if ourf-fold: 

  • First, convene an early learning advisory committee from various key stakeholder groups including the Blaine County School District, childcare centers, teachers, families, health care professionals, businesses, nonprofits and trusted leaders in the Hispanic community; 
  • Next, gather and report data on existing services, such as the difference between needed and available services, the reasons why families do or do not have access to support or preschools and more; 
  • Third, use the needs assessment to bolster successful programs and formulate a strategic action plan for future program development; and,
  • Fourth, promote best practices to support transitions between early childhood and K-12 schools.

“The WRELC brings together a thoughtful and innovative team of local experts with a singular and shared focus on supporting early learning within Blaine County. This is the strongest opportunity we have to positively impact children before they enter kindergarten. A broad-based community effort that engages families in meaningful ways is critical to this effort.”
~ Jim Foudy, Blaine County School District, Superintendent.

Kathryn Ivers becomes the project director of the WRELC

WRELC Mt Express Feature

The Wood River Women’s Foundation and the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children recently announced Kathryn Ivers as the project director of the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative.

“Kathryn’s broad and unique background, which combines community psychology, human rights advocacy, nonprofit leadership and a passion for improving the lives of children and their families, makes her ideally suited to lead this effort,” said Martin Balben, Early Learning Collaborative project director at the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.

Creating surveys tailored to three different types of community members is the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative’s next task. Surveys will be given to businesses, early-childcare and education providers, and families and community members to enable local data collection. The gathered data will be used to compile the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative Needs Assessment, which is anticipated to be finalized by the end of January 2023.

By Tony Evans Derived from Mt. Express
Read more Here

ABOUT IDAHO AEYC                                                                                                                                             

Since 2019, Idaho AEYC has been working with communities across Idaho to build a connective system of high-quality, early learning opportunities for Idaho’s youngest learners. Using a local collaborative model, leaders and stakeholders are coming together to improve access and affordability to quality care and early education to ensure our children are school-ready. 

Supporting families and children means doing our part. Across Idaho, families struggle to afford and/or access early learning opportunities. The Early Learning Collaboratives, locally created and community-led, aim to address this issue by supporting communities by creating a governing body to support the early learning system, focusing on the whole child, whole family, and whole community approach.

IAEYC Members

  • Kathryn Ivers – Project Lead
  • Martin Balben – IAEYC
  • Heather Lee – IAEYC

About the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative WRELC

WR Early Learning Advisory Council

  • Elise DeKlotz (Hailey Public Library)
  • Harry Griffith (SV Economic Development)
  • Jane Lopez (Hunger Coalition)
  • Janet Salvoni (Community School)
  • Jason Shearer (YMCA)
  • Jim Foudy (Blaine County School District)
  • Kristin Gearhart (Bellevue Public Library)
  • Laura Rose-Lewis (I Have A Dream Foundation)
  • Sarah Seppa (St. Luke’s Community Health)
  • Tricia Swartling (The Advocates)


During 2019 and 2020, the WRWF Grants Committee leadership and dozens of team members took a deep dive into evaluating our grant-making process. Their work included collecting and discussing member input, researching best practices for collective giving, examining funding impacts, identifying community needs and more.

In large part these efforts were initiated by results from the WRWF member survey conducted in 2018, in which members made a few things clear:

  • 78% supported the idea of multi-year grants
  • 60% supported large scale grants (more than $50,000)
  • 80% supported or were open to the idea of making grants to fund a pressing community need
  • 87% supported sustainability grants

One of the resulting policy changes proposed by the team and approved by the Board, combined these elements into one new initiative: a multi-year, large-scale grant that focuses on an area of pressing community need.

Beginning in the 2022 grant cycle, WRWF awarded one issue-based, two-year grant of up to $200,000. The Focus Grant allows us to invest $100,000 per year for two years in an area of acute and persistent need in Blaine County to “move the needle” at a level we have yet to achieve. 

A Task Force was formed to (1) study potential areas of focus for this grant, and (2) recommend an implementation process to include a vote of the membership on both the area of focus as well as the final grant award. In April 2021, the WRWF membership selected “Closing the Opportunity Gap in Education” as its first-ever Focus Grant topic.

The 2022 and 2023 Focus Grant Committee is co-chaired by Louisa Moats and Laura Midgley. 

Learn More About the Focus Grant