Change in the air for Elgin Partnership for Early Learning as its celebrates 10th year

Elgin Partnership for Early Learning is poised to celebrate its 10th anniversary with a change the group hopes will help it grow and prepare more area children for kindergarten.

The organization, which works to ensure that children 5 years old and younger have access to quality early care and education in Elgin and the surrounding communities, recently received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

"I think it will strengthen our opportunities for funding," said EPEL Executive Director Amber Peters. "It will help us stand alone as we continue to work with our partners but also be recognized as our own entity."

Though always a nonprofit, EPEL was set up a decade ago with the United Way of Elgin as its fiscal sponsor. When that group merged with United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, the YWCA-Elgin took over the sponsor role.

"They've given us the opportunity to grow and now soar on our own," Peters said. "We are so appreciative to them because they offered us support and opportunities to learn from seasoned leaders."

With more than 150 community partners helping to provide children and their families with resources from health care and nutrition to literacy and social engagement, Peters said it was the right time to make the change.

"We feel like we have enough community partners and funding in place to be able to stand alone, which will open the door for us to apply for additional funding to expand our services," she said.

EPEL was formed to improve readiness scores for Elgin Area School District U-46 kindergartners. Its work through the years has been reflected in the improved readiness scores, which have gone up from 10% in 2017 to 24% in 2022, according to reports from the Illinois School Board of Education.

Peters said the group is working to branch out beyond Elgin to the rest of the communities that make up U-46. About half of the 18,000 children 5 years old and younger within the borders of U-46 live outside Elgin.

"We have spent a lot of our time in Elgin because of the need of our families," she said. "But we've spent the last five or six years trying to build relationships with partners in the other 10 communities that U-46 serves."

One EPEL effort reaching out to kids in Hanover Park is its summer Learning on the Go program, which begins next week. The two-month program provides family engagement and early learning opportunities for young children directly in neighborhoods.

The events educate through play, storytime and crafts. Participating children also can check out books from the Gail Borden or Poplar Creek libraries' bookmobiles.

The free, bilingual program begins its seventh year with nine sites, up one from last year, including six in Elgin and three in Hanover Park. Peters said it's a great opportunity to help kids learn and educate parents on what resources are available.

"We want to change the system to make it an 'easy button' for families to get access to what they need to have their children prepared for kindergarten and close that school readiness gap," she said.

For more information about the Learning on the Go program, visit

  Julian Hernandez, 3, listens during a bilingual story time as the Elgin Partnership for Early Learning's Learning On the Go program visited the River's Landing Apartments in Elgin last year. Rick West/
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