Early Literacy and Learning Initiative

Early Literacy and Learning Initiative

The first years of life are the most critical for learning and development. To ensure that more children in Columbia County reach their potential, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation helped launch the Early Literacy and Learning Network. This partnership of nonprofit, education and government leaders is supporting parents through education and services, helping organizations collaborate and gain capacity to meet demand, and driving a countywide effort to communicate the urgency of early literacy.

Partners and Grants

Now in its third year, the initiative has awarded a total of $358,000 in grants. This year’s investment of $147,000 will support the following:


Columbia Opportunities and Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood are partners in leading and developing the network as it holds trainings for staff at early learning centers, read-a-thons for families, and summits on topics such as kindergarten transition. Additional outreach activities have included a newsletter focused on early literacy distributed to dozens of agencies.

The network has launched the Talking is Teaching public awareness campaign, which was developed by the Clinton Foundation. It helps parents recognize their power to boost their children’s early brain and vocabulary development through simple, everyday actions. Using books, parent videos, text messaging, social media and information from expert partners, Talking is Teaching empowers parents and caregivers with fun and easy ways to improve learning. A parent advisory council will help advise the campaign, and school districts are coming on board as partners.


Catholic Charities is boosting the early literacy component of its home visiting program, and expanding the program to serve more families. The program supports families during pregnancy and early childhood, offering parenting education and child assessments while increasing access to medical and social service providers through referrals.

The Project in Context

Many parents lack basic knowledge on early childhood development and face a broad range of challenges—
transportation, jobs, housing—that may prevent them from engaging in early literacy activities with their children.

Often, the most disadvantaged children are least likely to have access to the essential ingredients for healthy development. More than 16% of Columbia County’s children live in poverty, a rate higher than any other age demographic. Over half of the county’s students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Racial gaps persist among all individuals living in poverty, with 10% of whites in poverty compared to 26% of African Americans and 28% of Hispanics/Latinos.

Services and systems for families across the county are fragmented. Organizations serving young children and families have limited capacity individually, and lack a coordinated approach to care.


Catholic Charities hosted a literacy event for families who participate in the organization’s home visiting program. The gathering featured activities and readings related to the books of famed author Eric Carle. Photo by Darryl Gangloff


Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood is working to raise awareness of early literacy in Columbia County. Photo by John Dolan