Group of funders announce creation of ‘Liftoff’ Alliance

A group of 25 early childhood funders from across Western New York have joined forces to form Liftoff, a strategic alliance that works to ensure children ages five-years-old and under are meeting critical milestones and are ready to achieve their fullest potential by the time they start elementary school. The group, which will work through existing community organizations and networks to achieve its goals, compiled a comprehensive review of the region’s early childhood systems, entitled “Looking Toward the Future.” As the first regional assessment of its kind, the document informs, examines and prioritizes a wide range of issues, challenges and opportunities for early childhood development across Western New York.

“Research shows that what happens in a child’s first years, both positive and negative, can have a lifelong impact on an individual’s growth and success. Western New York is home to more than 100,000 children under the age of six-all of whom represent the future of our region. In order to meet the early childhood needs of these kids, we as a community need to better understand where the opportunities and gaps are,” said Maureen Millane, PhD, Project Director, Liftoff. “We believe the creation of the Liftoff alliance, and the unveiling of today’s report, will help to inspire and inform short and long-term community strategies.”

The Liftoff Report incorporates input from over 300 residents, including early childhood experts, providers, government officials, nonprofit executives and staff, members of the philanthropic community and parents. Input was received via interviews, focus groups and an electronic survey. Participants shared feedback on what they think is working well, what could be better and where there are opportunities to improve the early childhood system.

“Our vision is that by the time our region’s children enter kindergarten, they are meeting their physical, social, emotional and cognitive development milestones. There are three major factors impacting early childhood development, and those are: lack of awareness, lack of availability of high-quality and affordable opportunities and lack of access. Understanding these factors gives us the opportunity to understand the problems, so we can make improvements and also begin to mobilize stakeholders around these issues,” continued Millane.

Liftoff has identified five high-level opportunities to improve Western New York’s early childhood system:

1. Increase parental and caregiver knowledge of early childhood screenings that measure developmental milestones at various ages, such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time and waving.

2. Engage the business community in support of the report’s priority areas.

3. Develop a community-wide strategic plan that can serve as a roadmap guiding efforts toward meeting early childhood goals.

4. Work with elected officials to become educated about and involved in public policy work that supports awareness, availability and access.

5. Support strong advocacy work and increase the number of WNY leaders taking an active role in statewide forums to support regional approaches for system changes related to kindergarten readiness, quality, costs and accessibility to early childhood education and development.

“I am thrilled to learn about the creation of Liftoff. The early childhood development years are the most critical, as they strongly influence our learning comprehension and our future trajectories. The more support and resources that we can provide during these years, there’s a better opportunity to improve life outcomes,” stated Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes.

“Nearly thirty years ago, Rich’s opened the first on-site child care facility of its kind in Western New York,” said Bill Gisel, CEO of Rich Products Corporation and Chair of the Board of Directors of the John R. Oishei Foundation. “We know that access to affordable and quality child care is critical for parents and families, which makes this Liftoff initiative even more important for our community’s wellbeing.”

In the coming year, Liftoff will be working with partners across the region to address these priorities. Information will be available on its website: www.liftoffwny.org.

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