ELCOC Hosts Most Successful Gala in Event’s History – Raises More Than $1.6M for Early Education Programs

More than 7,000 young children in Orange County are waiting for their opportunity to get a jump start on their education, so they’re prepared and ready to enter elementary school. During Saturday’s 5th Annual The First Five Years Gala held at Epcot World Showplace, the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County (ELCOC), through the support of nearly 350 business and community leaders, raised $102,166. Combined with the guaranteed match of $15.67 from state and federal funding per dollar raised, $1,600,941 will go toward providing access to high-quality, developmentally appropriate early care and education for our community’s young children.

“Over the past five years, The First Five Years Gala has raised nearly $8 million, which has made a tremendous impact on the more than 26,000 children provided with an early education through our providers every year,” stated Karen Willis, CEO of the ELCOC. “By investing in early learning, we are investing in a future workforce that is smart, that is productive, that is creative, and that is equipped to handle the complex challenges of the 21st century. Currently, there are 7,000 children – just in Orange County – who are waiting for this opportunity. With the compassion and support of our guests who recently attended the gala, more children on this wait list will receive this early education and care.”
Proof of the importance of receiving an early education are in the numbers:

  • 90% of a child’s brain is developed by the age of five years old.
  • A child’s brain experiences the most dynamic growth from age birth to three years old.
  • For every 100 children who start kindergarten behind, 88 are still behind four years later.
  • Without access to early learning services, 30% of our children are more likely to never go to college and 70% are more likely to commit a violent crime.

“The numbers are just staggering,” said Hannah Besaceney, ELCOC board member and gala co-chair. “The money raised through The First Five Years Gala will place only a fraction of the children on this wait list into early education programs. Investing when the brain architecture is forming, when vocabulary so critical for future reading is growing, when social skills that promote teamwork and self-management are being shaped has a return on investment that outperforms most stocks on the NASDAQ. Just $300 will provide a child with an early education for one year. I encourage our community to get involved, donate and help us prepare our future leaders for the education they deserve; and help us to build an even better community.”

Every year during the gala, the ELCOC recognizes a community leader who has used his or her power and influence to improve the lives of children with the Toni Jennings Early Learning Champion Award. This year’s honoree is the former Orange County Public Schools Superintendent, Ronald Blocker, who dedicated his entire career to helping children, changed the landscape in our community and impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and families. Currently, he serves as president and CEO for Florida Virtual School.

WALT DISNEY WORLD® has served as host and sponsor of the event since its inception. Other 2015 event sponsors include Florida Hospital, Orlando Health, Orlando Magic, CenturyLink, LongHorn Steakhouse, OUC–The Reliable One, Mears Transportation Group, Publix Super Markets Charities, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, SunTrust, University of Central Florida and Westgate Resorts Foundation. Media partners include the Orlando Sentinel and Star 94.5 FM.

Hannah Besanceney chaired the event and led 24 honorary hosts comprised of business and community leaders.

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