Project GRACE (Giving Respect and Choosing Equality) was initiated in the summer of 2015 as UUFCO’s response to the UUA Congregational Study Action Issue of escalating inequality. During 2015-16, the Project GRACE team facilitated eight educational sessions focused on the inequality of income, wealth and opportunity in the United States, and the causes and effects of such inequality. The Project GRACE team also led two Sunday services and held a workshop to identify potential actions the congregation and its members might consider in response to escalating inequality.
Based on the results of that workshop, in 2016-2017 Project GRACE developed an Early Learning Team focused on expanding opportunities for high-quality early learning in Central Oregon and a Changing the Narrative Team which led discussions on altering how we think, speak and tell stories about inequality. In the spring of 2017, the Early Learning Team rebranded itself as FIREFLIES: Lighting Sparks in Young Learners.
FIREFLIES—Lighting Sparks in Young Learners
The FIREFLIES team, a sub-group of Project GRACE, is dedicated to expanding opportunities for early learning in Central Oregon. After extensive meetings with leaders in early learning in Central Oregon, the FIREFLIES Team has initiated three projects, with additional programs under consideration.
In the spring of 2017, the FIREFLIES Team partnered with Juniper Elementary School in Bend (a Title 1 school) to provide 200 kindergarten through 5th graders with a book bag at a special celebration in mid-June. Each child received five books especially selected for their reading level, plus art supplies, games and other materials intended to spark learning over the summer. Each bag also included tips for parents to engage with their children to make summer reading fun for the whole family and handouts with information on other community learning activities available to families over the summer. With the generous financial support of UUFCO members and friends—including cash donations, bottle and can recycling, and a Religious Exploration student bake sale, FIREFLIES distributed more than 1,000 NEW books, plus additional materials in a colorful bookbag bearing our FIREFLIES: Lighting Sparks in Young Learners logo.
Thanks to the success of our fundraising efforts, FIREFLIES also has provided funding to purchase books for distribution to Central Oregon children attending Lunch and Learn programs in Bend during the summer of 2017. The school district eliminated funding for books to be given to kids attending the free lunch programs held in city parks during the summer, but UUFCO support will assure that books will be available during at least some of the Lunch and Learn programs.
The FIREFLIES Team has arranged for the High Desert Education Services District to conduct a week-long kindergarten readiness program in our UUFCO Religious Exploration space in August 2017. The program is designed to help prepare students about to enter kindergarten, especially those who have not previously had a formal preschool experience.