Moving into a new year provides an opportunity not only to look back over the past year, but to look forward and make plans for the next one. In FY 2018, the Buell Foundation awarded nearly $16 million in grants to 322 Colorado nonprofit partners. We continued to focus on areas outside of the Denver metro region, awarding 57% of our grants to rural or statewide partners. In addition to our general grantmaking cycles, our staff worked on several special projects and strategies:

  • We overhauled our strategy for working with early childhood councils by more than doubling our investment and prioritizing funding for activities that we believe have the greatest potential for impact. These councils make up a network that we believe is vital to improving early childhood systems across the state.
  • We continued our investment in LAUNCH Together, a unique collaboration between eight funders who pooled more than $11 million. This initiative is designed to support Colorado communities in improving the health of very young children (social, emotional, behavioral, and physical health) by enhancing existing prevention and health promotion practices and building coordinated community systems.
  • We provided $995,152 to 18 child care centers through special playground improvement grants in an effort to create safer and more engaging spaces designed for active play.
  • We welcomed our 11th cohort of fellows to the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program, which is quickly becoming a national model for developing and deploying leaders in the early childhood sector.

We have been funding early childhood development and learning for the past 20 years, but we still continue to discover significant issues that need to be addressed. Young children are suspended or expelled from preschools at rates approximately three times higher than the rates for children in the K-12 systemi. Teachers often cite challenging behaviors as their primary concern, and approximately 25% of parents have concerns about their children’s behaviorii. In many instances, teachers leave the field due to these behaviors, but that is by no means the only reason they leave. In fact, the shortage of early childhood teachers has become one of our top concerns. It is imperative that early childhood teachers receive both the preparation and the pay to allow them to be successful in their positions. In an effort to support Colorado’s youngest children, the Buell Foundation has committed to addressing these problems head on through a new strategy that will be focused on a multi-generation approach to behavioral health as well as continuing our work to transform Colorado’s early childhood workforce.

  • Behavioral Health – The earliest years are marked by developmental milestones that define the trajectory for a child’s life. Positive social and emotional development provides the launchpad for that trajectory. We know that every interaction in the first three years contributes to how the young child develops. We also know that there are many factors that can support or inhibit growth. The Buell Foundation seeks to improve the social and emotional development of young children as well as their mental health by improving the environments and relationships that impact them the most. We have funded programs that directly benefit young children’s social and emotional development for years, and we plan to continue. In addition, we will expand our focus to include supports for the adults that care for children (teachers, parents and others). We believe that by strengthening the positive, caring relationships in children’s lives, we will see fewer expulsions of young children from preschool, and children will demonstrate improved self-regulation, resilience, the ability to identify emotions, empathy and a host of other positive outcomes. We are pleased to announce that we have hired a Manager of Behavioral Health Strategy, Stacy Howard, Ph.D., to build and execute this expanded strategy for the Foundation. We will release additional information about funding opportunities as it becomes available.
  • Early Childhood Workforce – Professionals who teach young children have an extraordinary opportunity to impact children’s growth and achievement. We believe that it takes a strong workforce to realize that opportunity. Some key issues facing the workforce include recruitment, retention and compensation of qualified, caring, effective professionals. Until these issues are addressed, it will be nearly impossible to ensure that all young children have consistent access to high-quality, nurturing learning environments. To that end, one key strategy of the Buell Foundation, in partnership with the Piton Foundation at Gary Community Investments, is investing in the planning and implementation of projects that aim to improve the early childhood workforce in a variety of Colorado communities. By funding and evaluating promising pilot projects, it will be possible to understand what works and how to replicate successful projects moving into the future.

As we move into a new year, we are excited about the opportunities that are ahead of us. We can’t do it alone. We look to the next year as a time to push for change in our early childhood system by utilizing partnerships with nonprofit organizations, funders, policy makers and other stakeholders. It is only through those partnerships that we can work to ensure that Colorado’s children are happy, healthy and thriving.

Dan Ritchie, Board President Susan Steele, Executive Director
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ii. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2011 Colorado Child Health Survey