Hands Together’s goal is to promote academic excellence among preschoolers and prepare them for elementary school. At Hands Together we believe every child should have access to quality early childhood education regardless of socio-economic status and that such an education is crucial to their long term education and development. In Santa Ana, the graduation rate for low-income Latino children is less than 40%. In fact, the Woodrow Wilson Institute of Government ranked Santa Ana #1 on the U.S. Hardship Living index. It is a very difficult place to grow up in.
The mission of Hands Together – A Center for Children is to provide the highest quality early education and care to families in need who are striving to gain stability, improve their lives, and emerge from the vicious cycle of poverty they face in Santa Ana.
The long term objective of our Academic Excellence and Kindergarten Readiness program is to prepare our 125 pre-k students for kindergarten every year. Hands Together believes that participation in an established early childhood education program for low income children directly leads to better educational and social outcomes and it is our mission to provide this opportunity to everyone we can.
Hands Together was founded in 1999 as a collaborative effort between the Episcopal Church of the Messiah, Sisters of Saint Joseph of Orange, City of Santa Ana, St. Joseph Hospital, Taller San Jose, and the Saint Joseph Health System.
Santa Ana, specifically the 92701 zip code, has the highest rate of poverty in Orange County. When assessing the needs of this community we identified early childhood education as the area we could best target to help break the chronic state of poverty so many in Santa Ana are trapped in.
While at first it didn’t look like much, a grant from the Santa Ana Empowerment Zone helped turn a rambling, old, medical building into a “state of the art” education center. However, there was still much work to be done. A generous $50,000 gift from the Ford Motor Company gave us our playground. The Episcopal Church raised $250,000 to help with our start-up costs. St. Joseph Hospital provided the feasibility study to see if childcare would work at this site. Finally, Dr. Sheri Senter and the National Pediatrics Support Services, Inc, were hired by the Board of Directors to manage the early childhood education program.
Finally, after much hard work and dedication, Hands Together opened on Valentine’s Day 2000 to 24 children. We soon discovered that the ability for poor families to enroll their children depended greatly on scholarship assistance. Thanks to a two-year grant of $400,000 from the Prop 10 Children and Families Commission, scholarships could be provided, based on financial need. This enabled us to fill the center with 84 children, ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Beginning in 2003, the California Department of Education has given an annual grant of about $600,000 toward tuition scholarships, keeping our halls filled with those in need.
2014 was to be a highlight year for us as the California Commission on Children and Families honored Hands Together as one of the top childcare centers in California. In 2005, we were accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Due to this national accreditation Hands Together is now placed in the top ten percent of childcare centers is America. When one considers that most of the certified centers serve middle-upper class income families, Hands Together stands out as providing the best childcare in an urban setting in Orange County. There are currently over 10,000 children on the County managed waiting list, hundred’s of who reside in the 92701 zip code.
Only a percentage of the actual costs of our quality programming is funded by the CDD. The Board of Hands Together is still charged with raising $200,000 annually in private gifts and public grants to provide the Elements of Excellence, which include: above market teacher salaries, a Family Coordinator, health assessments, innovative literacy programs, testing of outcomes, and nutrition. University studies have demonstrated that a stable faculty with high morale and a commitment to quality have the best long-term effects on early childhood education.