The earliest years in a child’s life create the foundation for lifelong development. Anyone who’s traded smiles with a baby or watched a soon-to-be-toddler taking their tentative first steps has seen the brain busy making millions of new connections: the mom in line at the grocery store with a toddler in her cart; the grandparents who were there for their granddaughters first steps; the stepdad who rocks his stepson to sleep.
These are our children’s first teachers, who take on the task of creating a positive environment for learning, providing warm and responsive interactions, and protecting children from stress. And yet, today, nearly a quarter of New York City children ages three-and-under live in poverty. These families tackle the hard work of parenting without access to basic services, housing, food or income.
Jackie Bezos, president and co-founder of the Bezos Family Foundation and a Robin Hood board member, wrote: “Science shows that what happens in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life significantly determines how he or she will learn, grow and succeed long-term. From snuggles to read-aloud stories to baths in the sink, small moments of engagement build a child’s brain and set a strong foundation for life. For thousands of families living in poverty, this important phase of parenting is made even harder by systemic injustices that threaten the time and security required for healthy development.”
Bezos added: “If we want to build a brighter future for every child, we have to take a holistic approach and support the families that provide care during the earliest and most critical stage of children’s learning and development. Simply reducing the stress on a parent can make room for healthier, more engaged relationships with their kids.”
At FUEL, Robin Hood’s Fund for Early Learning, the mission is to put the science and data behind child development to work for the city’s 100,000+ infants and toddlers living in poverty. FUEL was launched in 2017 with a big goal: to transform New York into an “early learning metropolis,” where low-income families can give children the best possible start to their lives. Robin Hood knew that this would require a fundamental shift in how NYC operates, so it set out to invest in sustainable and evidence-based programs with potential to grow for years to come.
Partnerships are vital to the approach. For example, FUEL has built partnerships with community-based organizations like United for Brownsville and city agencies including the Bureau of Early Intervention, all in an effort to best support the youngest New Yorkers. FUEL also advanced research and invested in promising programs like HealthySteps and the MOMS Partnership to reach more than 50,000 children by 2022.
As the city works together to rebuild a post-pandemic New York, there’s an even greater urgency to renew FUEL’s vision. Toward that goal, last week, Robin Hood launched FUEL for 50, a $10 million initiative to strengthen early learning in every borough of New York City.
With FUEL for 50, Robin Hood hopes to bolster programs that support parents and caregivers through:
Strengthening core learning/teaching and socio-emotional skills – for example, conducting story time sessions or offering substance abuse treatment and prevention programs for adults
Building nurturing relationships – for example, offering programs that promote responsive parenting, or supporting survivors of domestic violence to create healthy and stable environments
Reducing sources of stress – for example, providing caregivers with access to mental health services, or connecting adults to safety net resources such as WIC or SNAP
Here’s how it works:
From a simple, open application process, FUEL for 50 invites applications from any and every NYC nonprofit whose programs impact the lives of parents and caregivers with young children, even if that organization’s mission is not directly focused on early childhood.
Early next year, FUEL for 50 will award 50 nonprofits with $25,000 in unrestricted funding, access to workshops and support, and opportunities for up to $1 million in future funding.