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Headwaters Foundation and Zero to Five: Working Together for Montana Kids

Erin Switalski

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When Headwaters Foundation launched in 2017, newly hired CEO Brenda Solorzano set out on the road (on what we now refer to as the ‘600 Cups of Coffee Tour’) to hear from her neighbors and fellow community leaders in Western Montana. She wanted to know what issues related to health were most important to them. What she heard was that people were concerned about how social and economic factors were impacting the health of their communities. People in our state were grappling with low wages, limited job opportunities, and a lack of quality, affordable housing and childcare. Struggles were amplified for families with young children. Brenda asked what the Foundation could do to help. The resounding response was – invest in giving kids the best possible start in life and trust local communities to have the answers to the problems they are facing.

As a result of these conversations, in 2018, Headwaters Foundation became the seed funder for Zero to Five. Zero to Five is comprised of locally-led coalitions across Western Montana and a statewide advocacy office in Helena, all working together to give children a great start in life and a promising future. The initiative aims to help Montanans identify their most pressing concerns for kids and families and agree on, design and implement solutions. It also connects organizations and advocates across Western Montana to leverage resources, share lessons learned and identify opportunities for collaboration. Zero to Five’s local collaboratives operate independently, with their own budgets and workplans, and are united by a common, co-created Theory of Change, or their North Star.

The investments that Headwaters Foundation has made in Zero to Five are elevating early childhood in our state in unprecedented ways. Here are some examples of the ways Montana communities are coming together for kids:

  • In Silverbow County, which has some of the highest rates of kids in foster care in the state, they have developed support programs for foster parents that help families thrive.
  • In Beaverhead County, they have created a community play space and parent education center (the first indoor space of its kind) to ensure that families have a place to connect and learn during the long winter months.
  • In Lincoln County, they are developing parent leaders in remote areas to ensure that every kid ages 0-5 and their family have access to information and activities to thrive.
  • In Missoula County, they are implementing a Kindergarten Readiness Program to help ensure that families have what they need for kids to arrive to school ready to learn.
  • In Mineral County, they have developed a parent liaison program with every school to provide support and resources to families where they are.

Zero to Five Montana advocates for change at the state capitol. They have helped develop childcare funding recommendations, convened stakeholders to build private-public partnerships across the early childhood and business communities, and provided education to policymakers around key models and solutions to better support early care and education in Montana.

Headwaters Foundation hopes that the seed investments we have made in Zero to Five will encourage other funders to invest. This work has historically been underfunded in the state, but with an infusion of funds and ongoing support, we know these investments will pay back dividends for our communities for years to come. To learn more about Zero to Five and plug into efforts in your community, visit www.zerotofive.org/get-involved.