Unlocking Potential: Preschool Marketplace Hosts Free Night at OMSI

On Tuesday, March 19th, our Early Learning Multnomah team and a variety of their partners in preschool parity headed over to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to help our community learn about free and reduced-cost preschool options. This free event brought over 100 families into OMSI for free, and 14 partner programs participated to ensure that no matter the situation, these families' kids could get access to a quality early education.

Our Preschool Marketplace website was a highlight of the night, as many families learned how to search for quality preschools that fit their schedule and are in their area. Tools like our Preschool Marketplace allow families to find preschool options that are the best options and ensure children can thrive in their early learning goals. On top of learning about our Preschool Marketplace, families had a chance to talk with many of the talented partner organizations that make up Multnomah County's early learning ecosystem. Partners such as Mt. Hood Community College Head StartNeighborhood HouseAlbina Early Head StartLatino Network and more were more than happy to help families who attended.

"For the families, I think it was impactful to have the programs all in one room together," said Early Learning Multnomah's Annie Mellan. "It can be so confusing to differentiate between them but it's encouraging to know the programs are working together to ensure their child gets enrolled."

Early education information wasn't all that was offered though! United Way of the Columbia-Willamette handed out information on our Eviction Legal Defense program, our rental assistance funding, our Book Drive and Diaper Drive and more. There were plenty of opportunities for a fun family night out too! Kids and their parents were able to dive headfirst into OMSI's hands-on learning exhibits, as well as learn about the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex and learn about the many ways animals defend themselves at the Staying Alive: Defenses of the Animal Kingdom exhibit.

"The event was a reminder of the importance of in-person gatherings and how they strengthen our social fabric. Most of these partners meet monthly on Zoom but had never met in person," Annie said. "Shared experiences are one way to build relationships of trust, which are necessary for effective collaboration. When a family isn't eligible for one program, we hope the program staff reaches out to their counterpart at another program."

This may be the biggest unspoken benefit of an event like this; in order to ensure families can access equitable and quality preschool, we must build a strong, trusting coalition of partners. Doing so allows us to lean on each other to make sure families have someone to lean on.

We hope to continue hosting in-person gatherings like this, because we know the impact they can have. Building a cohesive network of early education providers prioritizes the importance of our community's well-being. Without a network that provides a safety net, families can fall through the cracks. We are dedicated to ensuring that doesn't happen. Take a look at the photos below for more from this wonderful night, and be sure to visit our Preschool Marketplace to learn about quality early education in your area!

Photos and article by Casey Minter of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. Read more impact stories.

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