VSP is a dual generation initiative focused on school readiness and elementary school achievement, and economic stability and community engagement for low-income families from Aspen to Parachute.  VSP utilizes The Manaus Fund’s ability to leverage connections between community resources and families in need.

The Manaus Fund received a $1.2 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich., last year, and $80,000 from The Daniels Fund, and $20,000 from the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation in 2013. Valley Settlement Project is a three-year, $3 million, settlement house-inspired program.  Settlement houses existed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in crowded immigrant neighborhoods of industrial cities where settlement workers provided services for neighbors and sought to remedy poverty. As settlement house residents learned more about their communities, they became more engaged, proposing changes in local government and lobbied for state and federal legislation on social and economic problems.  The Manaus Fund is now seeking matching funding for this ground-breaking project.

VSP is founded on community organizing, with the idea that like the Settlement Houses, it is critical to work within neighborhoods to connect with people who need assistance and empower them to create change to improve their lives.

At its core, VSP facilitates connections between existing community resources, works with local organizations to fill gaps in services and connects families to those resources via a team of community organizers.  However, this is not as easy or as obvious as it might appear, according to Ellen Freedman, executive director of The Manaus Fund.

The Kellogg Foundation and The Manaus Fund invested in nine months of interviewing parents, community agencies and public schools to identify barriers and potential needs to improve the settlement of the low-income families in our valley.  The work included one on one interviews in 300 homes in 25 neighborhoods and meetings with leaders of dozens of organizations across the region including one school district, nine churches, 50 health and human services agencies, local policy-makers, and leaders of Colorado Mountain College. More than 400 people were convened in a variety of meetings and presentations were made to 14,400 individuals.  These efforts yielded a tremendous amount of information to help us identify the barriers to accessing existing resources and gaps in services.

The barriers and gaps the community organizers discovered include:  linguistic and physical isolation, high levels of fear and low levels of trust, low educational opportunities, a lack of affordable early childhood education programs, a lack of parental connection to local schools, a lack of access to health care, high under-and unemployment, inadequate public transportation, and high numbers of children born to high-risk mothers.

Through the hundreds of meetings and interviews, the team cultivated partnerships and commitments with families, local agencies, and schools to work together on developing a community-driven approach to improving family well-being and child school readiness.  As a result of this work the following programs are being implemented.

VSP Programs:

Neighborhood Navigators: Connect families to needed resources
Parent Mentors: Training and support for parents to participate in their child’s school as classroom mentors
Powertime: An after school program focusing on academic and enrichment activities for elementary school children
Adult Education: English language, computer and GED preparation classes
Family Friends & Neighbors/Licensed Home Child Care: Training to improve the quality of informal day care
El Busesito/The Little Bus: This mobile early childhood education program will provide learning experiences for parents and children, ages 0-5, who lack access to traditional school readiness opportunities.

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