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The Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida wraps up Operation Kaleidoscope

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) – When Hurricane Michael devastated the panhandle in 2018, most buildings in its path were damaged or destroyed. Childcare facilities and classrooms were not spared.

Like many places, The Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida knows what it was like to rebuild after Hurricane Michael.

So, in 2019, when the nonprofit received a $7.4 million federal childcare development grant, they created “Operation Kaleidoscope”.

“When we applied for the funds, we decided that we wanted to use those that several million dollars for a broad range of services to help child care centers you know, get back get back up and running,” said The Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida Administrative Director Matt Bonner.

They spread the money out to more than three dozen damaged daycare centers and hundreds of classrooms across the coalition’s seven-county service area.

$1.3 million buys books, furniture, and other learning tools in 339 different classrooms.

“We were able to use that to replace all of those materials again as well as reimburse providers for either they didn’t have insurance or what insurance wouldn’t cover we were able to reimburse them for their repairs and renovations,” Bonner said.

The rebuilding process from Hurricane Michael was a high-stress time for people of all ages.

The Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida spent $2.8 million rebuilding playgrounds at 42 different childcare centers.

Nearly every childcare center that got damaged or was forced to close is back up and running.
Now, that Operation Kaleidoscope is coming to a close, the coalition is planning a new venture called Help-Me-Grow.

“It’s a little bit of everything. It starts with a child screening. So, we have specialists that can go and walk it, walk through with a family. What we use is called the ages and stages questionnaire tool and we just gauge the development of the children,” Bonner said.

The program will measure a child’s development process to make sure they get the help they need as early as possible.

Any childcare facility in need of assistance can contact the coalition.
The hotline number is (850) 747-5400


ELCNWF Restores Normalcy to Young Children Through Learning and Play

Panama City, FL – In 2019, the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida (ELCNWF) was awarded and used $7.4 million in disaster recovery funds to assist Hurricane Michael recovery. With this funding, Operation Kaleidoscope was launched by ELCNWF to rebuild childcare indoor and outdoor environments, provide mental health resources, and create growth and expansion opportunities for childcare providers in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington Counties.

Joyce’s Learning Center is one of many childcare facilities to benefit from Operation Kaleidoscope. The facility was brand-new in October 2018 and ready to welcome staff and children to the facility when they were dealt a crippling blow. “Hurricane Michael hit and everything was destroyed,” said owner Joyce Caldwell. “We had to rebuild everything, inside and outside. The funding we received from ELCNWF made our rebuild possible.”

Like Joyce’s Learning Center, many of the childcare providers in the region suffered damage to their outdoor playgrounds as a result of the storm. Playground equipment, shade structures, and trees were lost, resulting in a loss of outdoor play spaces for children. In December 2022, thanks to Operation Kaleidoscope, the playground at Joyce’s Learning Center reopened, better than ever.
Playgrounds are important for all children, but they’re critically important for children who need to de-stress and work through traumatic events. To meet this need, over $2.85 million has been spent to rebuild playgrounds at childcare centers. New outdoor play structures have been installed at 42 childcare centers in ELCNWF’s service area.

Of equal importance is restoring indoor classroom learning environments. Over $1.35 million was allocated to 339 classrooms that received books, furniture, and other tools to promote learning and over $524K has been disbursed to childcare centers for repair and renovation reimbursements. The funding also increased childcare availability and sustainability by creating additional spaces for children.

“The Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida is proud of Operation Kaleidoscope and the sense of normalcy it brought to the children affected by Hurricane Michael in 2018 and then by the pandemic in 2020,” said Executive Director Suzan Gage. “It is vital for children to have spaces where they can bounce back from life’s challenges through safely playing, connecting, and learning. Supporting the mental health needs of children, families, and their caregivers is also a top priority for ELCNWF.”

With this mental health priority in place, a program called Help Me Grow Florida was brought to the Northwest Florida region to offer support and resources for child developmental screenings; and mental health services were expanded to meet the needs of children, parents/caregivers, childcare teachers, and childcare directors. The free screenings benefited over 1,400 children and more than 2,600 hours of therapy was provided.

“This initiative in rebuilding childcare classrooms and playgrounds in Northwest Florida is so important to our recovery,” said Jeanne Hitchcock, ELCNWF Executive Board member and owner of Along the Way Learning Center in Jackson County. “As a parent and Hurricane Michael survivor, I have witnessed first-hand the impact restoring normalcy to classrooms and play areas has on not just children, but entire families.”

For more information on Operation Kaleidoscope or for media availability contact Communications and Development Director, Tami Valdez at (850) 625-8882.