An elementary education background and memories of childhood challenges anchors Jane Egasti’s dedication to early learning initiatives.
“As a slow reader in childhood, I have a special place in my heart for those who struggle in any school capacity,” Jane says. “I have spent much time volunteering to help young readers. Whether it was a school setting or Head Start, I’ve seen the need for additional support.”
An overriding belief in philanthropy and empathy pumps life into Jamie Egasti’s giving heart.
“I have learned that helping others grow and learn and succeed has driven the largest positive impact,” says Jamie, who spent 40 years in business, including five as the CEO of Catalina, a digital media solutions leader for Consumer Packaged Goods. “It’s been a powerful personal motivator. I feel both real empathy and a sense of duty to pay forward the support and coaching others have given me.”
The Egasti’s desire to create that additional support and their drive to bring lasting community impact has prompted the couple to fund the Campbell Park Network for Early Learning, a new United Way Suncoast initiative that seeks to transform the lives of preschoolers and their families in the historic South St. Petersburg neighborhood.
The project seeks to create a network of support for the early learning community and families with young children in Campbell Park/South St. Petersburg, where United Way Suncoast already has partnered with Duke Energy to develop, sustain, and grow the community.
The program will provide professional development, stipends, and other supports to early childhood educators working in childcare centers and family child care homes. It will bolster the efforts of earnest parents by offering parent/child learn and play groups or other fun ways to support their children’s development.
UWS will work with partner organizations to maximize the use of resources and avoid duplicating services. The program will be integrated into the Campbell Park Resource Center, where case management, financial stability, and other community services will be offered to early learning providers and families.
Why early learning? Both Jamie and Jane speak of how focusing on developmental years can make a lifetime of difference. Jamie cites the empirical data yielded from studies like the Carolina Abecedarian Project.
“A child’s early years can make an incredible difference,” Jamie says. “The science is clear. About 90 percent of a child’s brain development happens by age 5, and they acquire the social skills critical for success.”
“High quality early learning has a dramatic impact. The Abecedarian Project at UNC Chapel Hill has shown children with early education have a significant and lasting positive impact on their futures.”
Jane notes that the educational foundation for students must be solidified before the start of fourth grade.
“By third grade, children should move from learning to read to reading to learn,” Jane says. “Trying to catch up only gets more difficult as years go by. A solid foundation in reading and math is critical for all students.”
To amplify the benefits of the Campbell Park Network for Early Learning, United Way Suncoast will begin by holding “listening conversations” this fall, asking early childhood educators and families how the program can be delivered in a way that meets their needs.
It’s all made possible by the Egasti’s generosity and United Way Suncoast’s determination to sustain its 97 years of lifting up the community.
“Thanks to the Egastis, United Way Suncoast will strengthen the ties that bind early learning centers, family child care homes, parents, and the children we long to see grow, thrive and enjoy success as adults,” said Dr. Ellen Zinzeleta, UWS Director Of Early Learning. “We recognize this uplifting effort must begin with the kids’ most formative years, and then be sustained through elementary, middle and high school.
“Our vision is a network that unites caregivers and families in fellowship, camaraderie, and continuous growth in support of our youngest children.”