Columbus foundation commits $275,000 to boost The Basics

Program to help parents prepare kids for school gets $275K boost in Chattahoochee Valley

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Ten months ago, Columbus area parents received more help to prepare their children for school when the Chattahoochee Valley became the first community in Georgia and Alabama to implement a national program.

The Basics Chattahoochee Valley, however, didn’t have an office and lacked the money for an executive director and significant marketing.

Those problems were solved Tuesday as Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley president and CEO Betsy Covington announced at the Columbus Public Library a commitment of at least $275,000 to underwrite The Basics.

The grant is designed to cover three years of operating expenses, combined with the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley providing office space. The United Way also will hire the executive director, who will report to the branch’s vice president for community initiatives.

It’s the local version of an awareness campaign started in Boston about six years ago that has spread to about 30 communities across the United States. Columbus 2025, a five-year strategic plan created by local community leaders, is bringing The Basics here to address one of its five goals: developing more talented and educated people.

Research shows 80% of a person’s brain growth happens during the first three years of life, so the Columbus 2025 Birth to Pre-K Committee chose The Basics to help promote learning and language development.

The Basics Chattahoochee Valley has a website ( and Facebook and Instagram pages with free advice — through text and video, in English and Spanish — about how to provide an effective learning environment at home.

The Basics are considered five fun and simple yet powerful ways to have those interactions with children ages 0-3, according to the Achievement Gap Initiative’s guidelines:

Maximize Love, Manage Stress: “Babies and toddlers thrive when their world feels loving, safe and predictable,” this guideline says. “Respond with smiles, words, and touch to help them see, hear and feel your love. You will help them develop a sense of security and self-control.”

Talk, Sing and Point: “Babies learn language from the moment they are born,” this guideline says. “Respond to their sounds and later their words. Connect with eye contact and a loving tone of voice while pointing to help them know what you are talking about.”

Count, Group and Compare: “Every child’s brain is wired for math,” this guideline says. “Talk about numbers, shapes, patterns and comparisons as you go about your routines together. Watch your child learn to love math.”

Explore through Movement and {lay: “Babies are like scientists who love making discoveries,” this guideline says. “Watch to see what interests your child, then encourage their curiosity and help them learn when they play and explore.”

Read and Discuss Stories: “Reading turns kids into confident thinkers,” this guideline says. “Make books a regular part of your relationship from the very beginning. With infants, point at the pictures and speak with excitement. With toddlers, just make it fun.”

The grant’s goal, Covington said, is to “saturate the Chattahoochee Valley with The Basics so that every parent, family member, employer, daycare worker, church worker is equipped and empowered to maximize the brain development of every child in our community. We believe this work is urgent.”

The foundation manages more than 300 funds totaling $180 million. The earnings and payouts from those funds collectively have generated $186 million in grants to community efforts in the foundation’s 21-year history, Covington said.

Some of those funds are unrestricted, meaning their proceeds can be used however the foundation board decides. That’s the source of this grant, from the foundation’s Community Endowment Fund and its two named sub-funds: the Moselle W. and H. Quigg Fletcher Jr. Endowment Fund and the Susan and Butch Cochran Family Fund.

In the 10 months since The Basics began in Columbus, 47 partner organizations have used the principles, and volunteers have taught The Basics to more than 60 groups totaling more than 1,200 people and distributed more than 9,800 rack cards and 8,700 bookmarks promoting the program, Coates said.

Now, with money to hire an executive director and market the program, “We know we can do better,” Helena Coates, chairwoman of the birth-to-pre-K committee for Columbus 2025, said. “… This is a gamechanger for us.”

Dr. Susan McWhorter of Rivertown Pediatrics promotes The Basics in her practice.

“I love the reaction when I talk about it with my parents, because they get it,” McWhorter said. “They see really how easy it is to do this every day.”

Just ask Sonji Dunbar, a single mother of three children. She heard about The Basics during a presentation at the Early Head Start center on 11th Avenue.

“I thought it was awesome,” said Dunbar, an intake specialist for Enrichment Services Program. “It improved my way to prepare my children for school.”

By using The Basics, she more than doubled her nightly reading time with her youngest child, 3-year-old Corey, from no more than 15 minutes to at least half an hour.

“I used to just read the books to him,” Dunbar said. “Now, we do all these activities and try to explain to him what’s going on.”

Sonja Dunbar and her son Corey Dunbar, 3, demonstrate the principle of “Explore through Movement and Play” Tuesday after an event where the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley announced it is funding the first three years of the operating budget of The Basics Chattahoochee Valley. The Basics Chattahoochee Valley is a regional initiative launched by Columbus 2025 in association with the Boston Basic organization. The program focuses on five evidence-based parenting and caregiving principles for children, from birth two age three, of all backgrounds. The Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley announced Tuesday morning it is funding the first three years of the operating budget of The Basics Chattahoochee Valley.