Early Connections 2017-18 Annual Report


Annual Report


200 West 11th Street

Erie, PA 16501

(814) 874-0144

Dear Reader,

Each day, when directors, teachers, and staff walk into Early Connections’ centers, we look forward to the day

because we know we will watch wonderful things happen. Some days will be noisy and messy, and others will be

quieter and maybe even tidy! The children in our classrooms will make friends, they will negotiate, they will ask

questions, they will grow, they will learn something new, they will discover something that interests them. We

are here to guide children on that journey, to help them succeed and be excited by what they are learning.

We partner with our families and our community partners to provide children with the best possible

experiences during these early years. Together, we can develop every child’s love of learning and help each

child find the path to success throughout school. We look ahead to the wonderful future each child can have!

In this report, we focus on Early Connections’ work and activities throughout the 2017-2018 year, not only

within our organization but in cooperation with families, friends, and our community. We pledge to continue

our commitment to support young children and their families through leadership, advocacy, and quality

programs in early childhood education!

Thank you for your interest in Early Connections!


Darlene E. Kovacs, Executive Director

Board of Directors


Board President

Laura Schaaf

Barber National Institute

Board Vice President

Michael Plazony

Kemper Home Service Co.

Board Secretary

John VanTassel


Board Treasurer

Lori M Hetrick

Village at Luther Square

Jacqui Catrabone

Strategy Solutions

Sarah Howard

Wellspring of Life LLC

Katie Jones


Michael Thomas, Esq.

MacDonald Illig Jones & Britton

Dr. Janet Wojtalik

Former Special Education

teacher, School Administrator,

and Author

Administrative Staff

Darlene E. Kovacs

Executive Director

Michelle Harkins

Associate Executive Director

Family Support Program


Matt Turek

Vice President of Finance

Tracy Robison Chandler

Vice President of Professional


Kimberly Beers

Vice President

of Outreach/Success By 6

Erie’s Future Fund Scholarship


Holly Platte

Vice President of Human Resources

Abby Perry

Family Support Case Manager

Jayne Deutsch

Administrative Assistant

Early Care and Education Directors

Maggie Heslop

Nancy Dahlquist

Early Connections, City Center

Carlie Eck

Early Connections, Union City

Kate Beer

Early Connections, Housing

Authority of the City of Erie

Stephanie King

Early Connections, West Side

Stephanie McIntosh

Early Connections, North East

Maggie Jaraczewski

Early Connections, West Ridge

The research clearly demonstrates high-quality early childhood

opportunities help children succeed.

~ Tim Kaine

About Us

For over 100 years, Early Connections has provided programming for young children and families, and we are

dedicated to providing high-quality early learning opportunities for the young learners in our centers. We take

pride in our history in our community and recognize the accomplishment of over a century of dedication and hard

work. However, we never lose focus on the future and we continue to engage in planning and partnerships that will

move Early Connections forward in our service to the community. We recognize the emerging concerns of new

families in Erie County, and strive to meet the early education needs of an increasingly-diverse population.

Administrators and staff are alert to new opportunities, new research, and current trends in the field of child care

and education.

Currently, Early Connections provides quality Keystone STARS 3 and 4-level programming at six sites in the City of

Erie, Union City, and North East. STARS is a quality rating system used by Pennsylvania to provide a framework for

quality early childhood programming based on specific standards, with one STAR being entry level in the system

and four STARS being the highest quality. STARS sets requirements for early childhood programs to promote the

best and safest learning environment possible for children. This type of high-quality environment contributes to a

child’s overall success. In February, 2018, Early Connections opened a new center in Fairview to better serve the

West County area, and this location operates using STAR 4 standards while moving through the STARS process.

Early Connections’ staff are competent and qualified, and each person has a heart for helping young children

develop and learn. As a result, children in our classrooms experience developmentally-appropriate learning

activities, from infancy through school-age, which fulfill the PA Early Learning Standards and are also engaging

and interesting to young learners. Children's learning and development is supported through high quality

programming, utilizing years of evidence-based research that supports long-term positive impacts on a child

(http://www.highscope.org). Unfortunately, as has been reported for several years, young children in Erie County

are considered "high risk" for early school failure (OCDEL Reach and Risk Report). Quality early childhood

education provides a positive long-lasting effect on a child’s educational and economic future, in turn helping

improve their community’s economy and future workforce (http://www.readynation.org).

We look back at all we have built throughout our history, but we are focused on the future and moving forward to

fulfill our mission by helping young children and families find success. As a result, we collaborate with many

organizations throughout Erie County, including:

Erie Public Schools

Iroquois School District

Union City Area School District

North East School District

Housing Authority of the City of Erie

United Way of Erie County

Early Connections participates in:

North East Community Helping in Learning and Development (N.E.CHILD)

Erie Coalition for a Trauma Informed Community

Nonprofit Partnership Executive Directors Forum

Erie Together

Union City Roundtable

Union City Family Support Center

Erie County Office of Children and Youth


4 N.I.N.E.

Northwest Tri-county Intermediate Unit 5

Northwest Regional Key, Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC)

Early Connections has an agreement with these organizations to help provide early care and education for children

experiencing homelessness or similar challenges:

Erie United Methodist Alliance (EUMA)

Mercy Center for Women

Erie Family Center

We welcome questions regarding our work, and invite you to read our Annual Report in the pages that follow.

Early Connections is truly dedicated to creating lifelong learners through exciting and engaging programs!

Early Care & Education

Providing early care and education

programming for children ages 6 weeks

to 12 years

Quality early learning programs for 300+ children ● 7 locations

including 1 in North East and 1 in Union City ● Licensed by PA Dept.

of Human Services ● Participates in Keystone STARS ● Inclusive

classrooms at two centers ● Free meals which consist of breakfast,

lunch and snack (The USDA Nondiscrimination Statement can be found

at https://www.fns.usda.gov/fns-nondiscrimination-statement) ●

Creative Curriculum used in all classrooms ● Accept Child Care Works

● Parent and Community Involvement ● Summer Camp

Pre-K Counts (PKC)

State-funded Pre-K program for

at-risk children who are between

age 3 and younger than the age for

entry into kindergarten

Free, five half-days a week high

quality preschool - kindergarten

readiness program ● 215 children

participated during the 2017/18 school

year ● 6 Early Connections locations

plus 1 classroom in partnership with

Iroquois Elementary School

Early Connections Pre-K Counts

students exploring the world at the

Tom Ridge Environment Center

Pop Pop’s Pantry

Addressing food insecurity -

Nutrition assistance

Provides supplemental meals for low income families unable to

access pantries that are open during work hours ● 171 bags of food

distributed ● Available to all eligible City Center families ● In

partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank

Community Innovation

Zone (CIZ)

Supported Playgroups (SPGs)

for families and caregivers

Families enjoying a Supported Playgroup

field trip to the Erie Zoo

Participants learn to be their child’s first teacher ● Developmentally

appropriate activities to promote readiness for success in school ●

Provide a better understanding of school procedures and expectations

● Resources and referrals ● Opportunity to network ● Supported an

early learning symposium spearheaded by the Union City Family

Support Center to highlight the importance of collaboration between

school and service agencies beginning prenatally through grade three

● 3 year grant funded through PA’s Race To the Top Early Learning

Challenge Program, administered by Early Connections with United

Way as the lead agency ● Partners included the Iroquois School

District, the International

Institute, YMCA of Greater

Erie, and the Union City

Family Support Center

● Activities included

visiting the Children’s

Museum in Erie, the

Pittsburgh Museum, and

the Erie Zoo

Supported Playgroups provide families

with a fun environment to learn together.

Family Support

Engaging families in their

children's learning

Able to serve 20 children and their families at a time ● Quality

early learning, before and after school care ● Activities for the

entire family ● Infant through school-age, on a full-time basis

● Funded through a contract with Erie County Department of

Human Services (DHS)

Erie's Future Fund

Preschool Scholarship program

administered by Early Connections

for economically-challenged

families throughout Erie County

Look at what we built! All the while we were

learning about problem solving, cooperation,

math, creativity and so much more.

150 scholarship opportunities for qualified

children from low-income families

● Scholarships accepted at 40+ highquality

early care and education program locations in Erie

County ● Part-time summer scholarships offered for up to 50

scholars over an 11 week period ● Scholarship options: 3 or 5

half days a week during the school year ● Open enrollment

deadline allows families to access the program beyond the start

of the school year ● Provide educational resources and support

during the application process ● Scholarships are funded from

within Erie County through individual

donations, Pre-K Earned Income

Tax Credits, and cause-related


Erie’s Future Fund was created in 2011,

an outgrowth of the Erie Community

Foundation’s Early Childhood Advisory

Panel in partnership with United Way of

Erie County, Success By 6, members of the

Early Learning Investment Commission

and Erie Together.

United Way Success By 6


Success By 6, United Way of Erie

County's Early Care and Education

initiative, is a community

collaborative of professionals from a

wide range of organizations.

Sack races! Just one of the many fun activities to try during the 9th

annual Pre-K Counts Awareness Day event

Celebrated 15 years serving the Erie Community and helping prepare their children for Kindergarten ● Focuses

on the needs of young children and their families through the work of several SB6 committees: Maternal Child

Health Task Force, Erie County Early Learning Professionals, and Pre-K Counts, as well as in partnership with the

Erie County Local Inter-agency Coordinating Council ● 12th Annual Success By 6 Early Learning Expo: 65

families including 112 children, 35 local agency exhibits, hands-on activities, live entertainment, and educational

materials. Each child received a book courtesy of Hooked On Books for Kids Erie ● 9th Annual Pre-K Counts

Awareness Day: 700 preschoolers and their teachers from Erie County Pre-K Counts programs took part in a

variety of educational activities and games at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center

● Children Do Come with Directions booklets: 5000+ booklets have been distributed

in the past 2 years. We plan to update the booklet for reprinting in 2019.

United Way

Erie Free Taxes

Free tax preparation services through the

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

Program (VITA) to assist eligible low and

moderate income wage-earners to claim

the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Free tax preparation service provided by IRS-certified volunteers

at numerous locations throughout Erie County


● Federal VITA Returns: 6,248

● Claims (incl in above total): 2,136

● Returns: 616

● Total Returns: 6,864

● Refund Total: $10.9M

● Tax Filer Savings (est.): $1.8M


Quite simply, our work would not be possible without the support of the community. The following individuals

and organizations made contributions to support the work of Early Connections. Each gift directly and positively

affected a child’s life. Thank you!

4 N.I.N.E.

American Legion Post 237

Bayhurst Family Trust


Britton Family Foundation

Campbell Pottery Store

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Darlene Kovacs

Dr. Paul and Darlene Kovacs

East Erie Moose Family Center

Erie Community Foundation

Erie Community Foundation - Erie Gives Day

Erie Experience Vinyl

Erie Insurance


Fire Pitt Pizza Erie

Greater Giving Online

Holly Platte

Hooked on Books

Jacqueline Catrabone

Jamie Schumacher

Jessen Media

JJHT, Inc.

John Krol VFW Post 6773

John W. Alberstadt Jr.

Joseph and Brenda Comstock

Katie Jones

Erie's Future Fund

Preschool Scholarship Fund

administered by Early Connections

American Tinning and Galvanizing

CA Curtze Company

Erie Community Foundation-Erie Gives Day

Erie Insurance



Lilly Broadcasting of PA LLC

Math-U-See dba Demme Learning

Scott's Corp. Services Inc.

Scott's Development Company

UPMC Health Plan

We have made every effort to list all

grants, contributions and gifts

received during the period July 1,

2017 through June 30, 2018. We

apologize for any errors or omissions

and ask you to contact Early

Connections Administrative Offices

at 814-874-0144 with corrections.

Kiwanis Club of Erie

La Nuova Aurora Society of Erie, PA

Larry Lechtner

Lori Hetrick

Maria's Pizza

Mayer Bro. Construction

Michael and LeeAnn Thomas

Michael Plazony

Michelle Harkins

MnM Treasures

Plazony Family Foundation

Presque Isle Downs and Casino

Sarah Howard

Sean and Kimberly Beers

South Erie Turners

Stan Zlotkowski III

State Representative Flo and Vicki Fabrizio

State Representative Pat and Michelle Harkins

Sunflower Club

Times Publishing Company

Tracy Robison Chandler

UPMC Health Plan

Vicary Insurance Agency

Victoria Fabrizio

WM T. Spaeder Co.

Z3 Concepts

Neighborhood Assistance Program

Through the Department of Community and Economic

Development’s Neighborhood Assistance Program, UPMC

Health Plan received tax credits for their gift to Early

Connections, which helped purchase The Creative Curriculum

for infants, toddlers and preschool. This high-quality

curriculum for now readily accessible to every Early

Connections classroom.

Jennifer Weigold-Geertson, Senior Manager of Community Relations at UPMC

Health Plan (center of photo in green) and the Early Connections staff at our

training on the use of The Creative Curriculum in our classrooms

Erie Downtown Partnership

Early Connections was one of the downtown businesses that

proudly received a $2,595 Façade Improvement Grant from

the Erie Downtown Partnership. This grant will help provide

the funds needed to replace the windows on the State Street

side of our City Center location, 704 State Street. An additional

grant helped provide security cameras at this location.

Fiscal Report July 2017-June 2018

Accredited Under the Pennsylvania Association

Nonprofit Organizations’ Standards for Excellence®

Early Connections is a 501(c)3 nonprofit

organization -contributions to which are

tax deductible to the fullest extent

permitted by law. The official

registration and financial information of

Early Connections may be obtained from

the Pennsylvania Department of State by

calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania,

1-800-732-0999. Registration does not

imply endorsement.

Early Connections is proud to be able to display this

Seal of Excellence awarded by the Pennsylvania

Association of Nonprofit Organizations. Early

Connections is one of two nonprofit organizations

in this region to be awarded accreditation under the

Standards for Excellence® program, which is

bestowed only to the most well-managed and

responsibly governed nonprofit organizations that

have demonstrated continued compliance with 56

specific Standards for Excellence® based on

honesty, integrity, fairness, respect, trust, responsibility,

and accountability. Early Connections has

met, complied with, and integrated the Standards

for Excellence® into all its activities to successfully

complete this voluntary accreditation program.

Early Connections

City Center

704 State Street

Erie, PA 16501

(814) 456-4576

Early Connections

West Side

420 West 6th Street

Erie, PA 16507

(814) 456-5346

Early Connections

Harbor Homes

1841 East 18th Street

Erie, PA 16510

(814) 899-3310

Early Connections

John E Horan Garden Apartments

730 Tacoma Road

Erie, PA 16511

(814) 454-9713

Early Connections

North East

50 E Division Street

North East, PA 16428

(814) 315-2915

Early Connections

Union City

16380 Route 8

Union City, PA 16438

(814) 438-7016



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