SAVANNAH, GA – The Savannah Early Childhood Foundation (SECF) today announced that long-time advisory board member and Parent University founder Michael O’Neal will become the non-profit organization’s full-time paid executive director beginning January 12, 2015. O’Neal, who will continue to serve as executive director of Parent University, which he founded in 1999, previously lent his time to both organizations on a volunteer basis while maintaining his full-time position in maintenance at International Paper’s Savannah Containerboard Mill.
Generous support from public and private partners within the local community now enables O’Neal to make his passion for serving Savannah’s youth a full-time career. In particular, O’Neal’s employer for the past 38 years, International Paper, recently agreed to grant him a leave of absence for the next six months while he is leading the Savannah Early Childhood Foundation and Parent University. Earlier this year, Live Oak Public Libraries installed a dedicated office space for O’Neal at their Bull Street location. And notable contributions secured from local Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, the Oscar Mayer Family Foundation, Fox & Weeks, the Anderson Family Foundation, Gulfstream, Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, as well as many individual donors, have allowed SECF to expand its groundbreaking Early Learning College (ELC) program to three area schools (East Broad K-8, Shuman Elementary and Brock Elementary), increasing the need for full-time staff to manage its day-to-day operations.
“International Paper prides itself on being a great neighbor and we are thrilled to support the incredible work Mike continues to do in the Savannah area through SECF and Parent University,” said Ralph Stagner, IP’s mill manager, Savannah Containerboard Mill.
“International Paper’s support is not just a contribution to SECF and Parent U, but a tremendous gift to the parents and children that these two groups serve,” said Savannah Early Childhood Foundation President Paul Fisher. “Our community at large will benefit from having Michael’s talents dedicated to doing this important work full-time.”
Launched in 2012, Early Learning College offers local parents, caretakers and supporters of young children, from birth to age three, an opportunity to learn from professional instructors about proven ways to enrich their child’s development and better prepare them for school. Developed and conducted in partnership with local community and public service organizations, including Parent University, Early Start Child Care Resource and Referral, Wesley Community Center and the Lady Bamford Center, each ELC session is four hours long and free to the public. The curriculum includes subjects like discipline with love, nutrition, multiple ways to create language-rich environments, how to create educational toys from common household goods, and much more. Hundreds of local parents have attended ELC sessions at East Broad K-8, Shuman and Brock Elementary over the past three years. The next Early Learning College session will be held at East Broad K-8 School on Saturday, January 17th from 9am-1pm.
Parent University has offered area parents more than 120 different classes over last 15 years, with topics ranging from preparing for standardized tests, to basic computer operation, to coping with the loss of a loved one. Three four-hour Saturday sessions are hosted at area schools throughout the year. The Winter Session of Parent University will be held on Saturday, January 31st at Savannah High School from 9am-1pm.
“Parents in our community want the very best for their children, but they don’t always have access the best resources,” said O’Neal. “Through Parent University and Early Learning College, we’re sharing information, building relationships and giving parents the tools to help their children develop the skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. Parents know they will leave our sessions feeling energized and empowered by the experience – that’s why they get up on a Saturday morning to come, and why they keep coming back. And I consider it a tremendous honor and privilege to be able to devote more of my time to working with them as full-time executive director of SECF and Parent U.”
About the Savannah Early Childhood Foundation: Established in 2011, the Savannah Early Childhood Foundation (SECF) is a first-of-its-kind 501c3 organization, working to stitch together community resources to ensure that all Savannah children are ready for school. Combining public and private resources, SECF is uniquely focused on helping parents create high quality learning environments for their children starting at birth through age five. In partnership with Parent University and other community partners, SECF has developed and operates multi-session Early Learning College programs for parents in several neighborhoods throughout the city. To learn more about our community-based, parent-centric approach to early childhood development, visit www.savannahecf.org.
About Parent University: Founded in 1999, Parent University is a 501c3 community collaborative that supports Savannah area families. This initiative promotes life-long learning and community building, encouraging parent involvement and participation in the education of our community’s children and youth. In our advanced society, each of us needs to keep abreast of new and innovative ways of teaching and learning. Parent University has provided a way. Learn more: www.parentuniversitysav.org