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Working collaboratively

Dr. Carla Gull from Loose Parts Play led a workshop focused on nature play for early child care leaders who gathered in April for an event. The event was collaboratively hosted by the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, Crossroads United Way, and Geminus.

Crossroads United Way, one of the coalition Executive Sponsors for BSB, is rolling out Bright By Text, a national texting platform that offers parent resources. This will be a valuable resource for our community. The Building Strong Brains Community and Family Supports action team worked collaboratively with Crossroads United Way to research the platform for Elkhart County. Look for more information soon on how to sign up for this great service.

Celebrating the theory of change and design

This work to create a collective system to help all kindergartners in Elkhart County be ready to learn and thrive when they arrive at school started in Elkhart County 18 months ago.

Tamarack Institute worked with the Design Team to develop a theory of change to inform future transformative action work. Action teams, focused in the areas of maternal and child health outcomes, quality early child care and learning environments, and community and family supports helped to determine how to chart a path to action.

In July, the Design Team — which has been working closely to guide Building Strong Brains — came together to celebrate the progress and a transition to transformative action. We gathered at The Jackson Rooftop for conversation and to celebrate all that has happened and all that is to come.

The governance structure continues to evolve. Being intentional about how we do this will help us succeed in our work to create a system-based approach to supporting all children in Elkhart County in reaching their full potential to learn and thrive in all areas starting in kindergarten.

A community advisory/leadership team is being formed. The steering team, comprised of members from ten partner organizations, is integral in guiding the strategy of the system-level focus.


Building Strong Brains Wins $400,000 Grant From Early Learning Indiana


ELKHART COUNTY, Indiana — Building Strong Brains is receiving $400,000 from Early Learning Indiana as part of its first round of grants.

Building Strong Brains is a coalition with the mission of building a system supporting Elkhart County children under age 6 and the families who raise them so that every child is prepared to thrive when they enter kindergarten. Five agencies — Community Foundation of Elkhart County, Horizon Education Alliance, Child and Parent Services, Crossroads United Way, and The SOURCE — are leading the collaboration to build a system supporting the children. 

Indiana, with generous support from Lilly Endowment Inc., awarded the grant to Building Strong Brains. Funding will support:

  • Parent Cafés for parents of young children (CAPS)
  • Triple P for Baby (HEA)
  • Bright By Text, a free texting service with information for parents of young children (Crossroads United Way)
  • Data dashboard focused on early childhood (University of Notre Dame’s Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society)
  • Website and marketing for Building Strong Brains (CFEC)

This grant will advance and accelerate efforts already underway in Elkhart County, and is the first of many grants the coalition hopes to secure.  With the vision that all children enter kindergarten prepared to thrive and succeed, Building Strong Brains is building partnerships and collaborations across sectors and continually listening to parents to inform strategies and activities.

Kim Boynton, Building Strong Brains coalition director, said, “The grant award is an exciting opportunity for the Building Strong Brains coalition to continue to align the collective transformative action work and resources to support young children and their families in Elkhart County during the early childhood years.”

Rebecca Shetler Fast, CEO of Child And Parent Services, added, “This funding will support leveraging and aligning local resources to serve children and families in Elkhart County, through our work at CAPS, and through broader community-wide systems efforts and services in our Building Strong Brains coalition.”

Early Learning Indiana is awarding grants of up to $500,000 to 86 organizations serving Indiana infants and toddlers. The grants total $31 million. All 86 organizations will serve families in low-income households; 69% of grantees will serve members of communities of color; and 63% will serve multi-language learners.

Each awarded program will help Hoosier families support the cognitive, social-emotional and physical well-being of infants and toddlers. Studies show a child’s brain is hardest at work during the first three years of life, busy creating the foundation for all future learning capacity, social-emotional development, and mental and physical health.

Leah Plank, senior director of Parent and Family Systems for Horizon Education Alliance and acting director of Triple P, said the grant will expand Triple P’s capacity to reach parents of the community’s youngest children. “This will help us have a greater positive impact on children at those crucial early stages when even a small intervention can lead to huge leaps in their development,” she said. “As part of Building Strong Brains, we are thankful to be part of a community-wide approach to early childhood that focuses on how far we can go together.”

Another of the 86 grantees is working to help the children of Elkhart County. Walnut Hill Early Childhood Center in Goshen is receiving $165,200 for adding an infant classroom and capacity in toddler classrooms.

Marshall V. King
Director of Communications
Community Foundation of Elkhart County
(574) 295-8761


Kimberly Boynton Will Lead Elkhart County’s Early Childhood Initiative

ELKHART, Indiana — A new leader has been selected to guide Building Strong Brains, Elkhart County’s Early Childhood Coalition.

Kimberly Boynton will become the first coalition director for the effort to ensure every kindergartner has the needed skills as they start elementary school. She will begin the new role on June 1 and be employed by the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, a coalition member steering the coalition in conjunction with Horizon Education Alliance; The Source, hosted by Oaklawn; CAPS – Child and Parent Services; and Crossroads United Way.

Boynton is a speech-language pathologist and assistant professor of speech-language pathology who has had a range of roles in public education, higher education, and nonprofit sectors. “As a speech-language pathologist, I know the importance of the individual and collective voice,” she said. “As a leader, I know the significance of empowering individual voices, including parents, caregivers, educators, businesses, legislators, community agencies, and other collaborators, while building the collective voice focused on the Building Strong Brains initiative in Elkhart County.”

She is an assistant professor at Saint Mary’s College and previously worked for Elkhart Community Schools, as well as other organizations. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Purdue University, an administrative license from Ball State University, and a doctoral degree in educational administration from Indiana State University.

Building Strong Brains began with research, planning, and conversations in the last several years as agencies came together to change systems in Elkhart County, where only 42 percent of children demonstrate all the skills ready to succeed in kindergarten on day one. The coalition officially launched in November 2022 and is focused on changing outcomes over the next decade or more.

Three grant applications are already in process or submitted to support this community initiative. In addition to funds committed by CFEC, partner organizations are committed to this collaboration.

“Given her expertise, experience, and tenure in Elkhart County, Kim is well-poised to assure the success of the coalition and therefore students in Elkhart County,” said Candy Yoder, chief program officer for the Community Foundation.

Boynton added, “Families and children are at the heart of the Elkhart County community and we have the opportunity to work with them to support their access to resources and opportunities, working together to positively impact lives. The work is challenging, rewarding, and complex, but the importance is evident in research and practice.”


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