BERRIEN SPRINGS — The Berrien County Great Start Collaborative bestowed awards for Child Advocate of the Year and Creative Collaborator of the Year during its Sept. 26 meeting at Berrien RESA.
Child Advocate of the Year went to Sister Paulita Walters, the founder of the Readiness Center, a comprehensive preschool program in Benton Harbor.
Now retired, she remains a presence there as a full-time volunteer. Nearly 1,400 children have been helped since the center opened its doors in 1980, and 97 percent of those graduated from high school.
“Sister Paulita has dedicated her life to young children through her work at the Readiness Center and served the families of Benton Harbor for decades with her kind, humble spirit,” Kristen Chism, director of Berrien County Great Start Collaborative, said in a news release.
Niles Community Schools and Eau Claire Public Schools each received the Creative Collaborator of the Year award.
This summer, both districts piloted literacy projects to increase reading proficiency in students in kindergarten through third grade. The literacy pilot included pop-up libraries and home visits for identified students who needed extra support during the summer.
The United Way of Southwest Michigan and Berrien County Great Start Collaborative partnered with both districts on the program by providing funding.
For the past several years, the September meeting of the Great Start Collaborative has become a celebration of the work the organization has done toward early childhood outcomes over the previous year, and an opportunity to discuss work for the coming year.
The Great Start Collaborative is an early childhood community initiative that brings community leaders, business owners, charitable and faith-based organizations, health and human service agencies, educators and parents together to focus on families with children prenatal to 8 years old.
Together, these groups work to provide a network of resources that help families obtain services that will allow their children to succeed in every facet of life.
The collaborative works to expand and enhance early childhood systems in Berrien County, and make progress toward early childhood outcomes, including overall health, early academic development and school preparedness for children from birth to third grade.
For more information, visit greatstartberrien.org.