Jan Plourde and her family ran a special kind of business supporting teachers and parents with teaching tools and ideas for 22 years in the Boston area. The Learning Tree Store in Danvers and Stoneham served as a community hub for teachers to buy toys, books and teaching supplies, as well as to access new ways to teach their young charges through teacher training and support. When the recession hit in October 2008, the store lost 35% of its business and after two years had to close its doors.
Because the community of teachers had felt so supported by Jan and The Learning Tree Store, they wanted to ensure the real magic of the store could continue, so in the spring of 2010, they gifted Jan with the funds necessary to set up the Play it Forward Giving Circle as a fund at the Essex County Community Foundation.
The mission of Play it Forward Giving Circle is to offer support to folks who are doing the great work of teaching our young children. The main initiative is the Legacy of Teaching Early Childhood Institute which Jan started in 1989 as the Four College Conference. In 1995 the conference became The Legacy of Teaching Early Childhood Institute, and it is the only early childhood conference dedicated to providing workshops and inspiration for teachers of young children in our region. This year's Institute will be held March 12th at the Riverside School in Danvers.
"There is much good work being done in our schools, but it's like taking a spoon and shoveling beach sand. We are trying to support and supplement what good work is already happening," commented Jan Plourde.
Play it Forward Giving Circle is also developing five initiatives that will take place throughout the year. The first is the Sister School Initiative, a collaboration between an independent high school and a primary school in Lynn. This year's sister schools will be Pingree School in Hamilton and the Tracy School in Lynn. During Pingree's 2-week March break, motivated students will become helpers and role models to Tracy School's kindergarden-5th grade students by spending an hour each day working on art projects. They will create an art installation at the school, with a planned reception and art show the week before Mother's Day where the framed artwork will be sold to raise money to support Tracy School's art program.
While Jan has the momentum of years of passionate work at The Learning Tree Store, the Giving Circle itself is still in its fledgling state. "The vision for the Circle is to build a team of people with a strong interest in supporting education with a special focus on early childhood education to raise money and volunteers for collaborative initiatives in our region's schools," Jan said.
The Circle is perfect for folks who have recently retired from teaching, empty nesters, young mothers and anyone who wants to be involved in improving education for our young. The next meeting is January 29th at Notre Dame Children's Class in Wenham. All are welcome to join. Because ECCF is so pleased to welcome Jan and her creative new fund to our philanthropic community, we asked Jan why she chose to set up Play it Forward Giving Circle with us.
"Because ECCF is a foundation. We can focus on our own region; they teach us how to do the job of a nonprofit, and we receive mentoring and support. It is a natural fit."
Thanks Jan, from all of us at ECCF!