SPARK Program Helps Impoverished Kids Play.Learn.Connect

SPARK Program Helps Impoverished Kids Play.Learn.Connect

Thanks to the generosity of the Dunham Fund in Aurora, Fox Valley United Way’s SPARK Program has received a $50,000 grant for a unique program for parents and children.

Play.Learn.Connect is on a mission to reach out to impoverished families to provide access to early learning opportunities, as well as the chance to receive direction and support for their child’s first educational experiences.

SPARK United Way LearningPlay offers fun and interactive “learning through play” activities for parents and children. Learn provides mini workshops for parents to support their role as their child’s first teacher. Connect conducts developmental screenings by certified practitioners, as well as “Shared Intake” sessions that provide a single point of contact for parents seeking eligibility and support to enroll children in various early childhood programs.

“The objective of the program is to change the model for typical community outreach to families in poverty,” said Trish Rooney, Director, SPARK Aurora. “We will offer access to information and services in specific neighborhoods where children are at-risk of not succeeding in school and beyond due to lack of adequate early learning resources.”

SPARK will focus its efforts in four Aurora communities with the highest number of children from birth to age five whose families are disadvantaged by poverty–many of whom are linguistically isolated because Spanish is their primary language. Presently, 44 percent (8,354) of these children live in families that are at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Of this number, more than half (4,554) are below the 100 percent FPL.

Strategically located in school district neighborhoods, the target locations are: Monomoy neighborhood in West Aurora, Fox Pointe / Hometown neighborhood in East Aurora, Fox Valley Villages in Indian Prairie, and Summerlin neighborhood in Community School District 308. Members of SPARK’s Parent Council, who represent various sectors of Aurora, will assist in reaching families, as their relationships in the community are key to engaging parents to participate.

“Connecting with families in these neighborhoods helps SPARK and its agency partners to identify underserved children–ensuring that they have access and opportunity to enroll and participate in home visitation, Head Start, Preschool for All, and Preschool Expansion programs,” says Rooney. “We are so grateful for the Dunham Fund grant that will help us redefine the concept of community outreach, by bringing services directly to families within their trusted, neighborhood safe zones.”

To date, SPARK has received a total of $400,000 in grants from the Dunham Fund. “The Dunham Advisers applaud this program that fulfills the philanthropic wishes of John C. Dunham and The Dunham Fund,” says Robert Vaughan, executive director.


SPARK united way logoSPARK (Strong, Prepared And Ready for Kindergarten) is an early childhood initiative of Fox Valley United Way. It was created in 2012 as the result of community concerns that reflected the challenges facing Aurora families through socio-economic, racial and cultural barriers, and the lack of authentic parent voices involved in addressing these challenges. The SPARK collaboration includes the City of Aurora, Fox Valley United Way, School Districts 129 (West Aurora), 131 (East Aurora), 204 (Indian Prairie) and 308 (Oswego). The mission of SPARK Aurora Early Childhood Collaboration is to empower our diverse families and children to attain full success in learning and life by ensuring that all of Aurora’s young children have equal access to exemplary Early Childhood Care and Education. SPARK brings together community leaders, school districts, early childhood program s and community agencies to work collaboratively to build an early childhood system that will ultimately improve outcomes for Aurora’s children.

About Fox Valley United Way

United Way logoFounded in 1922, Fox Valley United Way recruits financial donors, volunteers and advocates to support a wide range of social service programs, helping to meet the most critical needs within Kane and Kendall counties. It also initiates innovative programs like SPARK and FVUW currently serves 15 communities including Aurora, Big Rock, Bristol, Hinckley, Little Rock, Millbrook, Montgomery, Mooseheart, North Aurora, Oswego, Plano, Plattville, Sandwich, Sugar Grove and Yorkville. Beginning Aug. 1, FVUW will take over the communities previously served by the United Way of Central Kane County: St. Charles, Geneva, Wasco, Elburn, Campton Hills, LaFox, Kaneville and Maple Park.

About Dunham Fund

dunham FundEstablished by John C. Dunham in 1996 and funded in 2007 in accordance with the provisions of Dunham’s trust , and nurtured during the intervening years by Dunham and a board of personally appointed advisors, the Dunham Fund honors Dunham’s life and philanthropy through grants to Aurora, Illinois area organizations that have the vision and programs to help fulfill Dunham’s dream of “making the world a more comfortable, safer place for mankind to live and prosper.”

The Dunham Fund seeks grant applications from organizations that — like Dunham — encourage innovation and collaboration in educational and community development programs and projects to effect positive change in the Dunham Fund service area.