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Lightning Foundation Grant Spotlight: Hillsborough Head Start Community Foundation

by Erin Chenderlin / Tampa Bay Lightning

On April 23, the Lightning Foundation awarded grants to 16 local organizations totaling $120,500 at the Community Awards and Donor Recognition Reception. Grant applicants were asked to detail their organizations and give a proposed program or project, along with a description of how it qualifies under the Lightning Foundation's funding guidelines. The Foundation's Board of Directors selected the 16 organizations. is profiling each of the organizations and the grant they received. Check back daily for a new organization and see how the Lightning Foundation is truly fulfilling its mission to make Tampa Bay a better place to live, work and play.

Hillsborough Head Start Community Foundation

The Lightning Foundation makes it very clear that educational enrichment is one of its top priorities throughout the community. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Foundation has continued its grant to Hillsborough Head Start Community Foundation, Inc.

Head Start is a comprehensive, early childhood development program for parents with children ages 4 and younger. The Foundation grant will help fund the Head Start Family Literacy Enhancement Project. The objective of this program is to increase knowledge and awareness among the parents about the benefits of reading to their children.

"What we try to do is work with the parents or caregivers of the children enrolled in the program so that when we're introducing literacy concepts in the classroom, we're also having the parents see the importance of literacy as well," said Laura Rice, community services program coordinator for Hillsborough Head Start Community Foundation, Inc. "We're kind of carrying over those concepts from classrooms to home."

Through this program, the grant will be used to create 80 "Our House to Your House" bags. The bags, usually themed, include books and literacy supplies for parents to interactively use with their children at home. They are kept inside the Head Start centers for parents to check out whenever they wish. They have memory games, word-building games and other activities that help reinforce the concepts being taught.

"It's been pretty successful in the past and we're really trying to beef it up again," Rice said of the bag program. "It really kind of helps reinforce what we do at Head Start overall, which is parent involvement."

Along with helping to create more "Our House to Your House" bags, funds from the Lightning Foundation will also be used to hold a future Family Literacy event. Rice said that in the past, the events usually include a literacy coach coming and talking with parents, giving them different strategies and showing them how to bring reading components into their homes. Putting word labels on everyday items around the house, for example, is a great way to bring literacy into your home, Rice said. Meanwhile, the children are working with staff and volunteers on various literacy-building projects. Last year, Rice said, Head Start even held one Family Literacy event that was entirely in Spanish.

With 20 centers throughout Hillsborough County, it seems clear that Head Start is making it a priority to reach out to parents and encourage them to get involved with their child's reading skills at an early age. The parents, Rice said, have responded incredibly well.

"The parents are learning how to better interact with their children," she said. "A lot of it is new information to them. The feedback from the parents is outstanding."


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