FITCHBURG — The passion the four women behind Empower Children for Success have for the community focused nonprofit organization they formed together is evident.
Adela Cintron, Angelica Lacourse, Marites MacLean, and Gretchen Rodriguez, all graduates of the Public Education, Children with Special Needs, Mental Health, Childcare, and Financial Stewards programs of NewVue Communities, were inspired to launch ECFS in November with the mission to create more equitable childcare, workforce development, and behavioral health systems in Fitchburg, Worcester County, and the North Central region.
According to a press release, these four minority women business entrepreneurs saw the need to create an organization that will meet the comprehensive needs of the children and families that they serve. They met several times with Francisco Ramos, director of Community Organizing at NewVue Communities, Inc., for help with the creation of Fitchburg Loves the Children in 2021, now known as ECFS.
They were granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for ECFS in October and MacLean said they “appreciate” the organizational and development grant funds received from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts that allowed them to hire an accountant and lawyer who worked closely with the ECFS Board of Directors to apply for the application to obtains its nonprofit status.
“We are grateful to the Greater Worcester Community Foundation for awarding us the community grant for general operating support this year,” MacLean added about additional funding.
NewVue Communities and Highland Baptist Church acted as the corporation’s fiscal sponsors in 2021 and 2022, respectively, which enabled MacLean to write grants “to advance its mission of promoting the overall healthy development of children.”
She said ECFS is “creating a more equitable mental health system by implementing its Calming Kit project.” The kits include books, art and drawing supplies, fidget toys, and more.
Recipients of the 2021 calming kits, which included materials donated by the Fitchburg chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, were family resource centers, family engagement agencies, childcare centers including family childcare programs, and parents. Last year they gifted kits to LUK, Inc. to be distributed to its clinicians in its various programs “to use as a preventive tool to support the social-emotional, mental, and behavioral health of the children and the families that they serve.”
“ECFS strongly believes that obtaining training and having the Calming Kit as a resource should be an essential part of an adult’s everyday tool when dealing with children’s social-emotional needs to promote and or improve health outcomes,” MacLean shared.
Grant funding secured through UMass Memorial HealthAlliance Clinton-Hospital, Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, and NewVue Communities in 2021 and from Community Health Network of North Central Massachusetts (CHNA9), the Fitchburg Cultural Council, and NewVue Communities in 2022 enabled ECFS to launch and maintain is Calming Kit project to provide a free, “preventive tool to programs and families to help children self-regulate to support their social-emotional, mental, and behavioral health.”
MacLean and the other women partnered with several medical and mental health personnel in the area to provide training for parents and caregivers on how to use the Calming Kits and distribute them in the region. They are also working to address “the need to find a solution to decrease the uptick of children’s and youth’s mental health cases in childcare programs and schools” in the greater region by providing support to a variety of people who work with young people.
“Counselors, teachers, childcare providers, and family resource and engagement counselors report an increase in youth depression, sadness, suicide ideation, bullying and despair,” MacLean said. “There is a wait for an appointment for students to see a mental health professional and many institutions lack a mental health professional in the buildings.”
In addition, ECFS is “increasing access to culturally responsive quality early childhood and out of school programs” through its Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program.
“There is an urgent need in Fitchburg and other parts of the North Central region and Worcester County,” MacLean said of the idea behind the program created to increase admission to childcare for the Latino community.
She secured grant funding last year from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, United Way of North Central Massachusetts, and the Greater Worcester Foundation to fund and launch its Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program “to help women especially in the minority groups to open a family child care business.”
“The participants are trained to promote children’s healthy overall development in a more culturally and linguistically appropriate ways,” MacLean said of the child care training program.
ECFS has been able to successfully expand its reach and enroll 46 minority-women participants in its Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program in the first three cohorts, 32 educators in its Trauma Informed Care Training program, and distribute more than 250 Calming Kits to children and families.
MacLean teamed up with Liz Murphy, Executive Director of Community Development & Planning in the city, secure $40,000 from Community Development Block Grant funds to provide a $3,500 grant to the each of the graduates of the Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program who live in Fitchburg and obtained their family child care license from the Department of Early Education and Care.
Estefania German is one of the recipients of the grant from the city and Nicole Young of Ashburnham is the recipient of a $3,500 grant from United Way, which will assist them in paying for the startup cost of running their family childcare businesses.
MacLean said graduates of the program are referred to Ray Belanger, Director of Small Business Assistance at NewVue Communities, “to get access to small business assistance programs to grow and maintain their businesses to become part of the small business ecosystem and to be recognized for their importance in building and boosting the local economies.”
“Empower Children for Success plans on scaling up the Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program statewide to increase the supply of culturally responsive high-quality childcare programs, especially family childcare programs to ensure that our children are being taken care of by caregivers who represent their cultural and linguistic background,” she said.
MacLean said she and her partners are determined to do what they can to serve children and families in the area and beyond with their programs.
“ECFS applies a community voice approach by amplifying the voice of the children and the families who are enrolled in the Head Start programs, childcare programs that receive state subsidies, and family resource centers and other agencies that serve the target population in the area,” she said. “ECFS includes the voices of the community most affected by the problem by asking families and stakeholders to get involved in the planning process like creating goals or defining the problem. We actively solicit their support to volunteer in the implementation of our projects, fundraising efforts, attend public events, and serve on our committees that focus on promoting health and wellbeing, family support, increase family’s wealth, and establishment of high-quality early childhood and out of school care.”
She said that it has truly been a collaborative community effort and wants to “extend gratitude” to Highland Baptist Church, Leominster United Methodist Church, IC Federal Credit Union, Enterprise Bank, Workers Credit Union, Rivers Brothers, Bin There Dump That, the ECFS Board of Directors, “and all the individuals that donated money to support and advance the important work of the organization.”
Empower Children for Success is looking for partners from financial institutions, local businesses, and other organizations that are community-minded helping to advance its mission to make greater impacts on the lives of the people it serves. Those interested can email Marites MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 978-348-2416, and for more information follow Empower Children for Success on Facebook and visit empowerchildrenforsuccess.org.