Grantee Spotlight: Early Childhood Alliance of Onondaga County


This spotlight first appeared in the Health Foundation’s 2020 Annual Report.

All children deserve the same opportunities to have a healthy, strong start to life. That’s why the Health Foundation continues to support programs and projects that improve the lives and health of young children impacted by poverty. We are proud to be a part of several programs and projects that are making a difference for children and families in western and central New York, even in the face of COVID-19-related obstacles.

Launched in 2015 after a citizen-driven study revealed the importance of providing children the opportunities to “thrive by five,” the Early Childhood Alliance is a coalition of stakeholders dedicated to the success of all young children in school and life. The ECA provides a wide array of support to the families of young children, equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to establish healthy, nurturing environments in which their children can thrive.

The ECA was one of 13 organizations to receive a grant as part of phase three of Co-Creating Well-Being, a Health Foundation program aimed at developing and testing new approaches to trauma-informed care for children using a human-centered design approach.

Participating in CCWB helped the ECA develop a program called THRIVE that gives parents the opportunity to take the lead in their lives and in their communities through peer-to-peer support groups. These groups aim to address isolation, mental health needs and a variety of other issues related to toxic stress and trauma. THRIVE includes a Parent Advisory Committee made up of participating families to ensure the inclusion of participant input, based on the notion, “How do you know what we need if you don’t ask us?”

“We really want families to believe in this program and fully participate in it,” says Gina Iliev, Director of Family & Community Initiatives. “It’s quicker for families to share information with each other as opposed to having an agency lecture them. The program provides a mechanism for family members to train to become peer support specialists themselves, working side by side with other specialists and coordinators.”

The program gives families a voice and helps rebalance power back to the community. “We want to serve as a model on how to work with the community instead of displaying a trickle-down power approach,” says Gina.

“No one chooses to be in poverty, and these issues need to be fixed.”

Read more about all 13 Co-Creating Well-Being grantees.