Carter Haas, all of 18 months old, was making the rounds on Friday.
From floor mat to toy kitchen cabinet, and finally into the arms of classroom foster grandmother Idella Williams, Carter was on the move. He gave Williams a kiss on the check, and then he was off again weaving his way through his classmates as they sang a group song.
Carter is a student at the Children’s Village Early Learning Center, which is a part of Lutheran Social Services of Indiana, 6613 South Anthony Blvd. The school serves children from 6 weeks to 6 years of age, and uses the high/scope curriculum.
There is a tuition fee but they do accept CANI vouchers and offer a sliding-scale fee based on a family’s monthly income. Carter’s mother can afford to send him thanks to a voucher funded by United Way of Allen County and Women United.
Women United, an offshoot of United Way of Allen County, was created in 2005. According to Irene Walters, co-chair of the leadership team, the idea was a three-pronged vision. Their goals are to raise money to fund scholarships for early childhood education, advocacy for education, and volunteerism. According to the group’s website, a 40-year longitudinal study that followed infants into adulthood showed $1 invested in early childhood learning saved $7 down the road, with measurable results in family income, health and stability.
Walters said last year the group’s signature fundraiser, “Power of the Purse,” raised $29,000, which allowed them to help 24 kids in Allen County. Out of those 24, five scholarships went to teen moms in the Lutheran Social Services ECHO program.
The ECHO program, short for Education Creates Hope and Opportunity, provides one-on-one, home and school-based case-management services to pregnant and parenting teens. Their goal is to help these girls complete their high school education by providing safe daycare and educational opportunity at Children’s Village Early Learning Center for their children, so they can focus on school.
Kathy Lehman, director of Children’s Village Early Learning Center, said the ECHO program at Lutheran Social Services has a 96 percent graduation rate from high school for teen moms.
According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, only “half of teen moms receive their high school diploma compared to nearly 90 percent of women who did not give birth during their teenage years.” In addition their children are more likely to have contact with the child welfare and criminal justice systems than children born to older mothers.
Walters said Women United is attempting to close that education gap and make a difference in the future, one child at a time. Women who are interested in joining Women United can learn more about the group during one of their information meetings, which are held quarterly.
The next “Power of the Purse” fundraiser will be held May 9 at Turnstone of Northeast Indiana.