Working Together to Assure School Readiness

Research tells us that 95% of brain development occurs before a child is five years old. This presents working parents with a difficult dilemma: how to best care for our child while we remain in the workforce?

Today, nearly 65% of southwest Florida families include two working parents, a number that is projected to increase as career opportunities and the local cost of living both expand.  This means that more and more families will need to look outside of their family circle for help in raising their children. When they do, their first call is often to the area’s largest provider of early education: the Greater Naples YMCA.

What every parent wants for their child is: 1) a safe environment, 2) a nurturing environment for learning and physical/brain development, and 3) proper guidance from early educational professionals.  
For over 40 years, the Gaynor Early Learning Center (GELC) at the Greater Naples YMCA has provided services to the greater Naples community. We understand the challenges facing young working families in our community. Providing the best total child development experience possible, at a reasonable cost, has long been our goal.  

After the Naples YMCA fire in 2013, its campus was rebuilt, and today nearly 200 children from three months to five years old attend GELC. The tragedy gave the YMCA an opportunity to review its scope of childcare services, an exercise that highlighted important areas for possible improvement. Thus was born the idea for the new Gaynor Center, an expanded facility that will broaden the YMCA’s ability to offer more services to children and their parents.

The new facility’s early education services will be comprehensive. Pediatric and therapeutic specialists will have offices on campus, adjacent to the early learning classrooms where the GOLDplus curriculum will be taught. In 2016, the Golisano Children’s Clinic and Healthcare Network’s Nichols Pediatric Clinic began working with the YMCA to create this unique model of wraparound services. “There is a great synergy in bringing children’s services together in one place at the Naples YMCA,” says Kathy Bridge-Liles, Chief Administrative Officer for Golisano Children’s Hospital.

It takes a community to build a great educational model. Today, the Naples YMCA is reaching out to partners to collaborate on services, to provide funding, and most importantly, to generate new ideas about our early education offerings. Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) funds scholarships, dental screenings (University of Florida) and vision screening. Partnerships with Health Care Network, Golisano Children’s Clinic, and Florida SouthWestern College, plus the valued insights from Future Ready Collier, have enriched our program. We are listening and developing improved wraparound services. Dr. Larry Miller, Dean of Education at Florida SouthWestern College said, “The on-site medical model with wraparound services at the Gaynor Center removes a number of barriers for the parents and their employers. The FSW School of Education is a proud partner in this important initiative for our community.”

The YMCA’s generous donors – notably the NCEF - allow the YMCA to provide a sliding scale, income-based tuition to working families, and thereby offer early education services to as many working families as possible.

The Next Chapter $9.2M Capital Campaign  

As the Naples YMCA continues with its quest to expand the roster of services available to our children and parents, we look to the Naples community for financial support. In April 2017, the YMCA was thrilled to receive an anonymous $3 million matching gift that will allow us to meet 70% of our financial goal when its challenge is met. The campaign’s $9.2 million goal will move students from temporary buildings to a new beautiful permanent building adjacent to the existing Nichols Healthcare Network Clinic and the Golisano Children’s Clinic. This new facility will expand our educational capacity by more than 110 students, allowing us to serve an even larger swath of our community.

The workforce of tomorrow is being developed through our children. They deserve every opportunity to develop as best they can, so that by age five, their 95% brain capacity has been well developed for Kindergarten readiness. The Naples YMCA, the Gaynor Early Learning Center, our wraparound partners, and our greater Naples community are dedicated to provide this vital development for every child today and tomorrow.

As namesake Lal Gaynor stated in 2015, “We will not only have one of the finest YMCA’s in the country, but a renewed focus on early education for our children. I am so looking forward to our Next Chapter.”