School partnership with Junior League promotes health, family and fun

From soccer to jazzercise, children and families are enjoying family fitness nights every month at Educare Oklahoma City, alongside volunteers from the Junior League of Oklahoma City.

The Junior League, an international women’s volunteer organization that focuses on building leadership skills and promoting community service, has been a long-time partner of Educare Oklahoma City and its key partner Sunbeam Family Services.

“The Junior League picks meaningful projects and partnerships to give members opportunities to volunteer in the community and give back,” said Danielle Lidwell, project manager for the Junior League.

On family fitness nights, about 12 Junior League volunteers join parents and families at the school every month from September to May, bringing a healthy dinner to share. After dinner, the group engages in a fun family activity led by the volunteers. Past activities included learning yoga and making healthy smoothies and snacks. The volunteers also bring small takeaway gifts for the children that are related to the night’s activity.

“The families love the program and especially the opportunity for their children to be exposed to different types of physical activities,” said Erin E. Engelke, chief external relations officer at Sunbeam Family Services.
Through the years, the program at Educare has continued to evolve. It originally focused on story time and literacy and then transitioned to health and fitness five years ago with the goal to diversify the health and wellness experiences.

“I think the most valuable pieces of the program are exposing children and parents to opportunities that they might not have exposure to otherwise, and creating an environment for children and their parents to participate and learn together,” Engelke said.
She says this is part of the reason why families have enjoyed participating in the program and continue to come back. In fact, the success of family fitness night has caught on and boosted attendance of children and parents.

“Last year we had some program nights where we had 40 to 50 kids attend, which is a lot,” Engelke said. “Over the years, we’ve also had a number of volunteers who continue to come back to this placement through the Junior League.”

Lidwell is new to the Educare partnership, but she’s quickly seen the benefit, not just for the children and families, but for the volunteers, as well.

“I think the volunteers have been really excited,” Lidwell said. “It’s really fulfilling for the volunteers when you get to interact with the families and the kids. They get a lot of satisfaction out of how excited the kids are and how thankful the families are. It feels good to do something good for someone else.”

Volunteer-based and other types of community partnerships are an important aspect of high-quality early learning programs. Educare schools across the country partner with local organizations to build connections with their community, to provide additional opportunities for children and families, and to share the importance of quality early learning.

Tips for starting a volunteer-based partnership at your early learning program:

  1. Find a program in your area to partner with that is looking for volunteer opportunities for its members
  2. Choose a focus area that suits your program’s needs and the volunteers’ interests and expertise
  3. Decide on a structure, cadence and timing that works for both of your organizations
  4. Hear from parents, families and volunteers on what they think of the partnership and activities
  5. Periodically review and evaluate how the partnership is working and evolve it accordingly