Community Partnerships EARLY CONNECTIONS AND NAMI The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Erie County, NAMI, is focused on fostering personal growth and family stability by supporting and educating family members and individuals facing the challenges of mental illness in Erie County. In April, 50 children from Early Connections enjoyed a morning of music and creative activities with national music artist Matuto, while helping NAMI to reach out to children and their families to promote stress management and mental health awareness to children through music. This was the second year that Early Connections was invited to attend NAMI’s event. Matuto, a Brazilian folk musical group, performed for the children for an hour. The children enjoyed dancing and interacting with their classmates! As part of the grant budget, the children were also admitted to the Children’s Museum for interactive play, a craft, and healthy snack. Each Early Connections child was provided with a bag that included information for the family regarding the event and NAMI’s services that are available to families in Erie County at no cost. This project was a collaboration between NAMI of Erie County, the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture, Erie Arts and Culture and Early Connections. Support for the program the was provided by an Erie Arts & Culture Project Grant, community contributions to the Combined Arts & Cultural Campaign, and the Erie Arts Endowment. Thank you for a great event! EARLY CONNECTIONS AND EUMA Erie County's Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) exists to provide a centralized database for collecting data from housing and service providers in order to understand homelessness and poverty issues in Erie County. In 2015, over 64 children ages 3-5 within Erie County were identified to the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS-Erie) as living in a homeless or transient family situation. A family’s stress associated with the need for food and permanent shelter often leaves children lacking access to consistent, quality early childhood education, and can hinder the child’s success in kindergarten and school. At the beginning of 2016, Early Connections began collaborating with the Erie United Methodist Alliance (EUMA) to help homeless or transient families provide their children with access to quality early care and education. EUMA has existed within our community for 130 years, providing services and shelters to help end homelessness to veterans, youth, children and families, as well as addressing the root causes of poverty. In February, Early Connections presented information during a EUMA executive staff meeting to mark the beginning of the process to streamline Early Connections’ application process and enrollment for infants and children from EUMA families that are faced with homelessness in our community. Early Connections staff look at appropriate financial tuition supports to help assist the family enroll their children at any of our six locations. While attending, the children are provided with nutritious snacks and meals, along with quality early care and education. Early Connections staff will also help with kindergarten enrollment, if needed, providing an easier transition into kindergarten. Early Connections is thankful for all of the work that EUMA provides to our community, and hopes to continue collaborating to help children from homeless and transient families.
COMMUNITY INNOVATION ZONE United Way Erie FREE Taxes is a program established to assist eligible low to moderate income wage earners claim the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a cash refund, by providing them with free tax preparation and filing services at volunteer tax sites. Created by the federal government in 1975, the program is the most effective poverty reduction program in the country. The EITC is a special federal tax benefit for working people who earn low to moderate incomes. It is a refundable credit that reduces or eliminates income taxes they owe. The Volunteers Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) works to ensure that eligible tax filers receive all their tax credits and deductions, including the Child Tax Credit, Education Tax Credit and Child Care tax deductions. FREE tax prep services are provided by IRS-certified volunteers at numerous tax site locations in the community. Early Connections administers this grant with United Way as named lead agency, funded by Race To the Top. Funding provides for supported play groups in one urban and one rural location. Working with a facilitator, families and caregivers have the opportunity to network and to learn to be their child’s first teacher using developmentally appropriate activities. This promotes readiness for success in school, and provides families with a better understanding of school procedures and expectations. Many participating families may have economic or cultural challenges, and the support of the facilitator and other families are of benefit to everyone involved. Partners include the Iroquois School District, the International Institute, YMCA of Greater Erie, and the Union City Family Support Center. During 2015-16, 17 families have participated in Supported Play Groups. Erie FREE Taxes VITA patron statistics for the 2015 tax filing season indicated that: 2,074 patrons received the EITC 1,029 of the VITA patrons live in rural communities Total Tax dollars returned: $9,160,000 Erie FREE Taxes VITA patron statistics for the 2016 tax filing season indicated that: Federal VITA Returns: 6,030 EITC Claims (incl in above total): 2,136 1,160 of the VITA patrons live in rural communities 227 patrons had a disability Total Tax dollars returned: $10,130,000 Tax Filer Savings (est.): $1.63M FAMILY SUPPORT Through a contract with Erie County Department of Human Services (DHS), Early Connections has been provided with funding to enroll up to twelve children, infant through school-age, on a full-time basis. These children might otherwise not have an opportunity to participate in quality early learning, or experience the engaging activities provided in before and after school care. The program is named Family Support, because of a strong focus on engaging families in their children’s learning and in providing activities for the entire family. During 2015-16, 45 children from 25 families were enrolled over the course of the year, and DHS hopes to obtain funding to enroll additional children in the coming year.