SMWC students help local daycares write applications for United Way grant

December 21st, 2016 | SMWC

Big Sprouts Preschool/Little Sprouts Daycare tour
Christina McKeehan and Gretchen Rhoads of Big Sprouts Preschool/Little Sprouts Daycare in West Terre Haute gave Professor Bill Riley’s professional writing class a tour of their facility this fall. The students helped them write a grant application.

By Dianne Frances D. Powell

For Karen Muñoz and McKenzi Kumpf, a class project in their professional writing class this past fall was not just a typical writing assignment. It was a challenge with real results.

“It’s something we’ve never done before,” Muñoz said.

The sophomore professional writing majors at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) were among a group of students who helped several local daycare agencies write applications to a 24-month, $50,000 a year grant from United Way of the Wabash Valley. It was a final project assigned in the course by Bill Riley, assistant professor of English.

Through this project, the students gained valuable grant writing experience and helped childcare agencies in the Wabash Valley. Their eyes were also opened to the plight of others in the community.

“We had to really think differently about how we approached it because it wasn’t just a normal classroom assignment. It helped somebody get what they need to help their agency,” Kumpf said.

The students worked with six childcare agencies applying for the special grant, which aims to improve childcare quality and early education programs. For United Way, it was an effort to get more Hoosier children ready for school. For Riley, it was an opportunity for his class to participate in that effort while giving his students grant writing experience.

Karen Muñoz
Karen Muñoz

Through site visits, research, interviews, writing and by working closely with providers, the students learned what it’s like to compile a grant for a client. They wrote the answers to some of the longer questions in the application. These include the overview section, outcome narratives, budget narratives and intended use of the funds.

But some students like Muñoz gained much more.

Muñoz said she heard stories of young, single mothers struggling to find adequate childcare to be able to go to work or go to school. In one story, she said a Brazil daycare went above and beyond by providing transportation to a baby to and from daycare while the mother, a high school student, went to school.

The Brazil resident and her group mates were assigned to work with CRADLES of Clay County, CRADLES of Brazil and Steps of Faith Daycare. Muñoz was thrilled to have been able to help a daycare in her hometown which she believes is meeting the needs of the community.

Riley said the project covered a lot of the concepts learned in class, such as persuasion, communication, research and understanding audience needs. They also learned how to humanize and personalize larger concepts, he said.  

“It helps students learn so much more when they have real stakes for the writing,” Riley said of the assignment. “My students really did feel like they had the added pressure in order to deliver for those agencies,” he said. “I think it also helped them understand how their writing skills might be used in the real world.”

McKenzi Kumpf
McKenzi Kumpf

The purpose of the grant funding is to improve the quality of childcare or increase the capacity of daycare sites that already offer high quality service. Outcome indicators include increase in enrollment numbers and/or move up a level in Paths to Quality and/or ExceleRate Illinois, the certification program for Indiana and Illinois daycares, respectively.

“Less than 40 percent of children ages birth to 5 in Indiana are enrolled in a high quality childcare or early education program,” according to the United Way’s request for proposals. “An estimated half of Hoosier children arrive in kindergarten lacking basic academic and behavioral skills. It is important for children to enter school prepared to succeed in their educational progression.”

In addition to CRADLES and Steps of Faith, the students also worked with other Wabash Valley based providers: Big Sprouts Preschool and Little Sprouts Daycare, Fawn’s Loving Hands Daycare, and Dawn’s Daycare. These daycares had requested funding for varying needs including more staffing, equipment, electrical and fencing repairs, more toys for the kids, among other needs.

“Without the help of Professor Riley and his class, I wouldn't have been able to complete this grant,” said Fawn Johnston, owner and operator of Loving Hands Child Care in the tiny town of Dana in Vermillion County.

“As you may know, grants require some very descriptive writing and that takes time.  With up to 12 children in my house 12 hours a day, I truly did not have time to complete this writing.”

She is hopeful for a positive outcome of the application. “My daily rate ... must remain low so that the parents in this area can afford care, but it makes things as simple as putting up a fence to enlarge the kids play area almost impossible without the grant possibilities,” she said.