Frey Foundation grant supports work of the Great Start Collaborative & Parent Coalition

Ground-level work being done by the Great Start Collaborative & Parent Coalition of Charlevoix, Emmet, and Northern Antrim Counties to reach and support families and young children continues to thrive thanks to funding support from the Frey Foundation.

In 2020, the foundation granted Char-Em ISD with a three-year, $81,000 grant award as its work continues to gain traction and help hundreds of families throughout Northwest Michigan. The Great Start Collaborative & Parent Coalition is a grant-funded initiative out of the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Great Start. Char-Em ISD serves as the fiduciary and provides oversight for the regional GSC.

The public may recognize the work of the collaborative in activities like free laundry events at local laundromats, the FreeCycle book program, Early Childhood Networking Nights around the region, and the Talking is Teaching campaign that has especially taken off in the last two years, said Savanah Cool, the GSC’s new director. 

“The funding support for these programs from the Frey Foundation is immeasurable to us. We are so grateful that the foundation recognized that the Great Start Collaborative and its Parent Coalition are working hard to reach families where they are – in their communities, at the places they frequent, at playgrounds, parks and even grocery stores,” said Cool. “We have been able to utilize the grant funding and soar.”

The grant funding for “Great Start Collaborative Capacity Building Project” supports a new Project Coordinator position as well, held by Crissy Napont, a long-time Char-Em ISD graphic designer who transitioned to the coordinator role in summer 2020.

“I’m so grateful to be a part of this work – it is incredibly rewarding to make a difference in the lives of our local families in this way,” said Napont. “The initiatives work because they are simple things that parents and children can participate in together every day to strengthen their family and improve childhood outcomes. We strive to remind families that easy, everyday activities such as changing a diaper, shopping for groceries, or doing laundry can be meaningful learning moments for children. All of these early experiences enhance brain development and lead to hitting those important development milestones.”

Several materials that Napont has designed for the local initiatives have been approved by the national organization that oversees the Talking is Teaching program, Too Small to Fail. Other communities are able to utilize her attractively designed materials to support their own Talking is Teaching programs – which is priceless to those organizations without a graphic designer on staff.

“It feels great to know that what we are doing locally is making a difference around the state and nation, too,” Napont added.

Jill Haan, Director of Early Childhood for Char-Em ISD and supervisor of the collaborative, said she was grateful the Frey Foundation took the time to learn about the needs in the community and the potential for growth with these innovative programs. 

“We are very appreciative of the foundation connecting with our collaborative and participating in meetings to really understand our work and the need,” said Haan.

The Frey Foundation has supported the work of the following projects:

  • Strong Moms, Healthy Babies totes: During fiscal year 2021, GSC connected with 125 pregnant women as a direct result of tote distribution.
  • Early Childhood Networking Nights: Six events, more than 250 registrants; 97 percent of participants reported learning new information and strategies that they can use as parents/caregivers.
  • Kindergarten Readiness Totes: 637 totes distributed to incoming kindergarteners in Char-Em ISD.
  • FreeCycle Book Project: 6,000 books in the hands of children during the pandemic, with close to 10,000 donations from the community collected.
  • Literacy Summit: Not held in 2021 due to COVID-19; planning for future summits under way.
  • Talking is Teaching Community Campaign: Numerous kits distributed to local families, and 55 new Trusted Messengers trained. Following topics were covered:

“We plan to continue the Talking is Teaching campaign in many different places. The goal is to have it show up where families are meeting and make it an every day part of their life,” said Cool. “It works because it’s really that simple: Talking, reading, and singing with your children.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the FreeCycle book program, and Napont said the public should be on the lookout for some refreshed materials and drop sites to celebrate the milestone. “We will be rolling out some new collection bins and we are going to be focusing on the sustainability of that program, updating materials and so forth,” she said. 

All of the projects dovetail into the GSC’s mission, which is to engage multi-disciplinary partners and families to identify, plan, and implement system change to strengthen families and improve child outcomes, nurturing and supporting every child in the region to achieve their maximum potential.

“I’m new to this role and what excites me most as we look ahead is continuing to meet families where they are, supporting them from the very start,” said Cool. “We can connect them with resources and tools to guide them and help them along the way. We are in this together, and we are so grateful for the Frey Foundation’s support in these efforts.”

Haan said the work of prior director Maureen Hollocker, who was at the helm of the GSC for 10 years until leaving for a national position in December 2021, set a strong foundation for Cool, Napont, and the Parent Coalition to build upon in the years to come.

“Our collaborative has grown to be a key organization for bringing early childhood stakeholders together to plan and implement system change to strengthen families and improve child outcomes,” Haan said. “With support like this from the Frey Foundation, we expect to be able to not just maintain current initiatives, but also to expand strategically.”

About the Frey Foundation: Frey Foundation, based in Grand Rapids, is one of West Michigan’s family foundations committed to making a difference in the lives of individuals, families, organizations and communities. Grants are provided to non-profit organizations primarily in West and Northern Michigan for projects that enhance child development, protect natural resources, promote the arts, and build community. We invite you to learn more about the Foundation and its history by visiting our website at

 Facebook: Char-Em Great Start Parent Coalition

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