Partners in Action: Jumpstart, DePaul University, & Erie Neighborhood House

Each month we’ll be highlighting a Jumpstart preschool partner as part of our new blog series, Partners in Action. Jumpstart preschool partners vary across Head Start centers, private and public preschools, early childhood programs at community centers, and even family childcare programs. Teams of Jumpstart volunteers serve in preschool partners’ classrooms twice a week, leading activities that enhance early language, literacy, and social-emotional skills, and providing personalized attention for each child in the room.

On Chicago’s West Side, Erie Neighborhood House has been the hub of the West Town community for over 100 years. Education and empowerment are at the core of Erie’s mission: they provide English as a second language (ESL) and workforce programs for adults, after-school and tutoring programs for older children, and childcare for the community’s youngest learners. That’s where Jumpstart comes in.

“What is most amazing is the dedication the Corps members bring,” shares Louis Falk, Erie’s Director of Child Care. “Building positive relationships with the children and their families by being kind and showing that you care makes a world of difference. Jumpstart understands that you need to make the investment early on if you want the investment to continue to grow.”

And it’s an investment that has paid dividends for all involved: DePaul University and Jumpstart have partnered to serve Erie for over 14 years, and many of DePaul’s Jumpstart Corps members have gone on to graduate and return to Erie as teachers.

When she first started serving as a Jumpstart Corps member at Erie House, Lauren Kolack was “struck by how much everyone seemed to care so deeply for the children that they worked with. They clearly valued the work that Jumpstart was doing in their classrooms and built a very positive working relationship with the Jumpstart team to ensure the best outcomes for the children’s learning and development.” Now Lauren works at Erie Neighborhood House as a Lead Teacher herself. “I absolutely love working here.”

“I am eternally grateful for my Jumpstart experience and know that I would not have the professional skills I possess today had I not gone through the program.”

Francine Hernandez, another Jumpstart alumna who is now an assistant teacher at Erie House, sees similar critical links between her time with Jumpstart at DePaul and her ability to affect change in her community. “My Jumpstart training gave me the confidence to become an impactful early childhood educator. I am eternally grateful for my Jumpstart experience and know that I would not have the professional skills I possess today had I not gone through the program.”

Over the last decade, Jumpstart, DePaul, and Erie Neighborhood House have developed a robust consortium of services for the West Town community. Mandy Cervantes, a current DePaul student and Jumpstart Corps member serving at Erie House, can feel it. “When I help a child understand a new concept and they get it, it makes me feel like I too can do the same with my own classes and work. These children teach me more every day, and I am a better person because of it. Jumpstart is important because for every child we teach, that’s one more ready for kindergarten and on track to being their best possible self.”

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