The St. Helena Rotary Club is drumming up donations to St. Helena Preschool For All with a $13,000 match that will help kids from low-income families get ready for kindergarten.
Preschool For All provides scholarships for children to attend one of five local preschools. Last year most of the $386,483 raised by the nonprofit came from businesses like The Restaurant at Meadowood, foundations like the Roger J. Trinchero Family Foundation, and the St. Helena Unified School District, with only 5 percent coming from individual donors.
“We’re challenging the community to raise that to 10 percent,” said Kathleen Patterson, incoming president of St. Helena Rotary.
Donations totaling $40,000 would meet Rotary’s goal and provide full-day preschool scholarships for four students. The first $13,000 donated will be matched by Rotary and its sponsors: Sunshine Foods, Jennifer Lamb, Grace Episcopal Church, the Joice Beatty Scholarship Fund, and an anonymous donor.
Preschool helps kids hit the ground running when they enter kindergarten. It also forms friendships and support networks that will serve students and families for years to come.
“Preschool For All has been the biggest blessing,” said Angelica Palma, whose son Leonardo attends Wee Care Childcare on a scholarship from Preschool For All. “Leonardo has had an opportunity that I never had as a first-generation immigrant.”
“He started preschool very shy,” Palma said. “It took him a long time to open up, but now he’s so open and he has friends. When he graduated his teachers said, ‘Do you remember when he started? He was like another kid.’”
St. Helena schools have high academic standards, and students typically start kindergarten knowing their letters and numbers and even having some rudimentary reading skills. Thanks to Preschool For All, “I know Leonardo will already be at par with the other kids,” Palma said.
In addition to Wee Care, Preschool For All offers scholarships to Little Backpacks Preschool (formerly Discoveryland), Mila’s Preschool and Childcare Center, St. Helena Cooperative Nursery School and Sun & Stars Montessori School.
Until now Preschool For All has funded three or four hours of preschool a day for 10 months, with 21 families participating in the 2018-2019 school year. Now, with support from the Roger J. Trinchero Foundation, Preschool For All is funding extra hours and extra days during the summer.
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“We know that a lot of families work, so they still require that coverage,” said Julio Olguin, executive director of Preschool For All. “We’re also doing more family activities because we want to build community among our preschool families.”
So far Preschool For All has held a Christmas party in partnership with Nimbus Arts and organized a trip to the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County.
With the new activities and additional preschool days and hours, “our budget is increasing pretty quickly, so we’re continuing to look for funding,” Olguin said. “It’s critical that we’re able to sustain this.”
Twenty-four families are enrolled for the 2019-2020 school year, with 17 of them signed up for a full six-hour day of preschool. Tuition varies depending on the school, but a five-day-a-week scholarship typically costs about $5,000 a year. The new extended-hours scholarships average $10,000.
The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga is a Rotarian and rector at Grace Episcopal Church, which is sponsoring the match. She founded a bilingual preschool at her former church in Hollister, and she knows the value of preschool firsthand from watching her daughter attend Sun and Stars Montessori School for the past two years.
“Preschool is when you start to make friends and connect with other kids,” Zuniga said. “To have our whole community represented in these wonderful preschools that we have is really important.”
Patterson is organizing a community party where donors can meet the children and families who benefit from Preschool For All. The party is scheduled for Sept. 7 at Crane Park, with preschool parents and Rotarians providing food to thank donors.
“It will be an opportunity to bring our cultures together,” Patterson said.