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Expanding and enriching learning opportunities for underserved children and youth that prepares them for academic achievement and career success.

Funding priorities:
  • Broadening access and improving opportunities for high-quality infant, early care and learning.
  • Creating and supporting innovative programs for students to learn more effectively and boost their overall achievement.
  • Supporting creative pathways to college and career success.


Stories of Impact

KRESA Brings Parents as Teachers and New Play Spaces to Families in Kalamazoo

“In looking at underserved families with young children, we thought, what better way to engage and build relationships than through play spaces.”

Jennifer Sova, Program Administrator of Early Intervention and Special Services, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency

Kalamazoo, MI (May 2024)At a recent parent focus group in an underserved corner of Kalamazoo, families in need were asked a simple question: “What are the barriers to engaging your family with KRESA services?” A brave female raised her hand with an emotional answer: fear of judgment and stigma. This mother of young ones worried that a home visit by KRESA to assess needed services would result in criticism of her family’s housing predicament and reporting of her living situation – so she avoided them, foregoing services her family truly needs. Other parents nodded in agreement. Creating common spaces for these visits emerged as a solution.

In Kalamazoo, KRESA (Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency) is one organization that works to circumvent these stigmas. KRESA provides a continuum of educational services and support to students, families, school districts and communities in the region. Between 2019 and 2023, supported by a Walters Family Foundation grant, the KRESA Foundation helped to construct three playspaces with the intention of creating safe, welcoming meeting spaces for families to build relationships and get the services they need. Funding also covered outdoor equipment in nearby areas, food incentives, literacy materials and stipends for staffing. The response from the community has been transformative.

Play Groups model Talking is Teaching and Parents as Teachers.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

“Convening in common spaces and providing a place to play takes the pressure off individuals from that more intimate experience of a home visit,” says Joy Smith, Administrator, KRESA. “One of our spaces is in an apartment complex in a very, very needful area. Not a lot of the young children are involved in programming. In this playspace we organized resource fairs, back-to-school events, and even fun activities for mothers like Queen-for-a-Day.”

Over the course of 58 events, KRESA gathered insights about families' needs, created and strengthened peer connections, and helped to improve parenting interactions through the Parents as Teachers model. The organization taught family-bonding and engagement skills and held sessions that encouraged reading and play. “We've had a couple sessions where there were four or five moms reading a book to their young ones. The kids were just loving it because they don't get that often. Some of them are homeless and don’t get the chance to just sit down and read together,” says Smith.
At one playgroup, the organization was able to help identify several children who required autism testing. It then circumnavigated accessibility challenges and brought the testing to the playspace. “There were quite a few families that really needed a stronger level of service that would've otherwise just fell through the cracks,” says Smith.

Ultimately, KRESA's goal is to be able to connect these families to services whenever and however they need them. “We're not waiting until kids are actually failing,” says Sova. “We're intervening early and giving them a better chance of success.”


Play Groups build community, coach parents, and screen children for needed services.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.