EEC and United Way announce new Brain Building in Progress initiative to support young children in homeless shelters

The Brain Building in Progress campaign promotes the importance of enriching environments in fostering healthy brain development in children, and the critical role that the public plays in providing positive experiences that support children’s learning.  One of the hallmarks of the Brain Building in Progress campaign is the way it creatively engages new partners in order to reach parents and educators in all types of settings.

This week, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, which jointly lead the Brain Building in Progress campaign, announced a new initiative to support the healthy development and learning of young children in homeless shelters through a partnership with Horizons for Homeless Children.  Horizons for Homeless Children provides high-quality early education, opportunities for play, and family support services to more than 2,000 homeless children each week in Massachusetts.

Through the Brain Building in Progress campaign, EEC and United Way are providing training and education on child development to Horizons for Homeless Children’s Playspace Activity Leaders (PALs) and homeless shelter liaisons.  Horizons for Homeless Children’s Playspaces are located in homeless shelters across the state and provide settings where children and adults can engage in fun and enriching activities that support the children’s growth, healthy brain development, and learning.  Horizons for Homeless Children’s adult volunteer activity leaders provide enriching experiences for the children in the homeless shelter Playspaces.

Using the Brain Building in Progress campaign’s “I Am A Brain Builder” curriculum, Horizons for Homeless Children’s Playspace Activity Leaders and homeless shelter liaisons are learning about the science of children’s brain development, how environments shape the architecture of children’s brains, the types of interactions that support healthy brain development, and how to create “brain building moments” with children that can be shared with their families such as pointing out and naming items while grocery shopping, or counting the number of stops while riding the bus or train.  Research shows that environments significantly influence a child’s brain development during the first five years of life, and that healthy brain development provides a child with a strong foundation for learning over his or her lifetime.


 “Environments help foster healthy brain development that will provide a strong foundation for children to grow, learn and thrive,” said Early Education and Care Commissioner Tom Weber.  “This partnership will help strengthen the ability of Horizons for Homeless Children to provide a more enriching environment and experience that will help support the healthy development of children in their shelters.”

“Our goal is to ensure Massachusetts families and caregivers have the knowledge and resources to support their children’s healthy development,” said Michael K. Durkin, president at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.  “The science tells us that young children in high-stress environments, such as extreme poverty and instability, benefit from healthy interaction and play with adults in a way that literally positively shapes the development of their brain during the critical early years.  This new partnership will help us reach children and families in homeless shelters, a population less likely to be enrolled in and benefit from traditional early education programs, and give them the tools to support early learning.”

“In shelters, oftentimes the children are invisible,” said Marilyn Munson Crone, Chief Program Officer at Horizons for Homeless Children. “That’s why it is so important to support shelter liaisons with information and strategies on child development.  Staff is incorporating what they’ve learned in trainings into work they do with parents, and we’ve been hearing rave reviews from shelter liaisons, managers and directors in 127 homeless shelters across the state.”

In support of the new initiative, United Way corporate partner PricewaterhouseCoopers has provided 20 children’s bicycles and helmets to United Way for donation to Horizons for Homeless Children.  Horizons for Homeless Children will use the bicycles to provide the children they serve with additional resources for physical activities and opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate play that supports their healthy growth and learning.

“Providing bicycles to children as part of our summer student leadership program, Elevate, is just one way PwC demonstrates its commitment to youth education and the prosperity of our local economy,” said Jen Marshall, Northeast Recruiting Manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers.  “Giving back is the essence of who we are and our purpose as a firm is to build trust in society and solve important problems. All children deserve a solid foundation of education, regardless of their socioeconomic status, and we’re proud to contribute to this program in collaboration with the United Way.”

The “I Am A Brain Builder” workshops are being held regionally across the state with Horizons for Homeless Children Playspace volunteers and homeless shelter liaisons, in Boston, Middleboro, Wilmington, Worcester and Springfield.  In previous offerings of the “I Am A Brain Builder” workshop with parents, 95% reported that they would try a brain building activity with their children and 89% reported that the workshop increased their understanding of young children’s brain development.