Early Learning Coalition helping childcare providers after Michael

In the three years since Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle, Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida has been working hard to help the youngest of those affected. 

Between assistance in rebuilding childcare facilities, offering resources for child development screenings and mental health services, ELCNWF has been busy helping to meet the needs of children, families and providers. 

Operation Kaleidoscope, started in response to Hurricane Michael disaster recovery efforts, aids in rebuilding facilities and helps in creating growth and expansion opportunities for childcare providers in Franklin, Gulf,  Bay, Calhoun, Holmes, Jackson and Washington Counties. 

As of Sept. 2021, over $3.4 million has been invested in childcare recovery by ELCNWF. Of that, $524,000 has been disbursed to childcare providers for repairs and renovation reimbursement, and $1.3 million has been spent on indoor classroom materials that include curriculum for both teachers and students. Thus far, 80 providers have received materials for their 339 classrooms obtaining books, furniture and tools that promote learning.  

ELCNWF Executive Director Suzan Gage says addressing the needs of children was at the top of the agenda. 

“In response to the disaster recovery, it was our responsibility to see that the needs and considerations of young children was a top priority,” said Gage. “We want to ensure our children have quality early learning experiences that are meaningful, especially after a disaster like Hurricane Michael.” 

Many childcare centers suffered great damage to their outdoor playground equipment which caused a loss of outside play areas for the children. Twenty-two centers are set to receive to equipment in the next few months after having completed their initial assessments. 

A storm like Hurricane Michael can cause mental health to suffer in both parents and children, ELCNWF has spent $350,000, to date, to help with the cost of mental health care.  

By providing screenings, behavioral evaluations and therapy services to children, families and providers, ELCNWF is working diligently to make available training and support in order assist the social and emotional needs of those affected. There are eight full-time mental health specialists and mental health consultants on staff to support families’ needs as well as 18 program directors who have received trauma informed care certifications. 

To learn more about ELCNWF programs or how to become involved visit elcnwf.org.

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper NonDoc.com during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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