In December of 2015, Eileen Chanti’s preschool program for unhoused children, First Place Kids, looked in danger of closing. The program had recently lost a staff member, and Chanti only had six months to find funding before she ran out of money.
Since then, Chanti says, an outpouring of donations from the Eugene community has saved First Place Kids from having to close.
After the program received some publicity in local papers, “there was a pretty intense stream of support,” Chanti says. First Place Kids received donations from $100 to $5,000, and with a yearly budget of $32,000, Chanti says the donations have allowed her to hire an assistant teacher.
First Place Kids is unique in the area — it serves around 200 children a year through drop-in classes three times a week at First Place Family Center. Because the program does not have mandatory enrollment, First Place Kids can accommodate the difficulties and unpredictable schedules often faced by unhoused parents.
Chanti says that in the past few months, First Place Kids has developed a gardening program and reimagined its classroom, replacing plastic toys with wooden toys donated from the Eugene community. The program continues to perform developmental screening for kids and connect families with resources across town that can help out.
Now, Chanti says, she would love to see First Place Kids expand to five days a week. The program will hold its first fundraiser June 24 with a paella dinner at Claim 52 Brewing.
“Our goal is to make enough money to be able to be there for families every day,” Chanti says. “It’s clear to me that the community cares.”
First Place Kids’ Paella Dinner Fundraiser is 6 to 9 pm Friday, June 24, at Claim 52 Brewing, 1030 Tyinn Street, Suite 1. Tickets are $50. Call 541-743-7144 for more info.