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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.

The FIREFLIES Team, a sub-group of Project GRACE, is dedicated to expanding opportunities for affordable, high-quality early learning in Central Oregon. For further information, or to join the FIREFLIES Team, contact FIREFLIES.

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Currently, the major program for FIREFLIES is our summer book bag program, which focuses on elementary school students who need a little extra assistance to maintain their reading and math skills over the summer. In its second year in 2018, with support from the Central Oregon community and funds raised at our first annual FIREFLIES FLASH!, we provided more than 1,600 new books in book bags to 325 students at Juniper and Ensworth Elementary schools in Bend and Rosland Elementary in LaPine. Our goal in 2019 is to serve 400-500 students at 4 schools.

Each book bag contains 5 or more new books selected by their teachers, plus games, puzzles, a journal, and other materials to help students stay engaged with learning throughout the summer. Each bag also includes 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.

Additional activities by FIREFLIES include:

  • The FIREFLIES Team 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 helped prepare students about to enter kindergarten, especially those who had not previously had a formal preschool experience.

  • The FIREFLIES Team is continuing to explore the potential for an affordable, high-quality preschool to operate in the UUFCO RE space.

  • The FIREFLIES Team continues to explore other opportunities to enhance the availability of affordable, high-quality early learning in Central Oregon. Oregon.