The United Way of the Greater Winona Area will help create and expand 11 early-childhood programs with $45,000 in grants.
The organization announced the winners of its Venture Grants on Tuesday at a ceremony at St. Mary’s Church, moving forward its recently revitalized mission to aid the area’s youngest learners by allocating 25 percent of its annual budget to programs geared at helping children and their families.
“We really are excited,” executive director Beth Forkner Moe said. “This has been a long time to fruition.”
In March 2012, United Way announced that it planned to focus on children, and in particular the growing collaborative effort in Winona often referred to as the Birth to Grade 3 Initiative to make sure all children are prepared for kindergarten.
Twenty-two organizations applied for the grants. The United Way’s board of directors then narrowed it down to the 11 winners by evaluating applications on a variety of criteria, including innovation and the extent programs would collaborate with others.
Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center was among the winners and will use its money to found the Early Childhood Hopeline — a phone-consultation service for Winona-area families, childcare providers and others concerned about the mental health of a child or seeking information about early-childhood mental-health issues. Callers will be able to talk with staff members trained specially in mental-health therapy and treatment for children 5 and younger.
“There are only a few models of this in the entire country,” Moe said.
Other winners include Home and Community Options, Central Lutheran Church child care center and Winona State University’s Children’s Center, which will use the money to buy iPads and software to help children with disabilities more effectively communicate, establish a wellness center and create a classroom for low-income at-risk infants, respectively.
Grace Place, Project FINE, Winona Area Catholic Schools and Winona Area Public Schools also will receive United Way funding.
“These grants are part of our overall plan to make sure that children are ready for school,” United Way board president Justin Green said.
United Way plans to sponsor a similar grant program next year and hope to see even more applications — and, with a successful campaign, have more money to donate.
Recipients of this year’s grants will need to reapply next year for funding, and the quality and effectiveness of all of the programs will be evaluated, Green said.
The United Way also will continue to support its current partners, Green and Moe said, whose funding will not be significantly affected by the new initiative.
“Our traditional partner agencies are still really the core of our organization,” Moe said.