OMYF Spotlight: Early Learning Coalition of Orange County

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – Research shows that children are much more likely to develop stronger language skills as they age if caregivers talk to them when they are babies. As a result, there is a growing effort from academic organizations across the country to increase how frequently teachers interact with infants and toddlers.

One particular agency working hard to improve children’s cognitive abilities is the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County (ELCOC), which received a $50,000 grant this year from the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation (OMYF) that will go towards boosting interaction between teachers and young kids.

The ELCOC will use some innovative technology to make this happen. Children will wear tiny recorders in their clothing that will track the words and conversational terms teachers say while around the children throughout the day. The audio files will then be processed and feedback will be given to the teachers by coaches on how often they spoke to the kids and how effective their interactive methods were.

“What we are really doing with this program is encouraging teachers to talk to babies even though the babies aren’t necessarily talking back to them,” said Karen Willis, CEO of ELCOC. “This money will go a long way in helping us expand that program.”

ELCOC’s goal is to give children the learning programs they need to develop properly and smoothly. With assistance from the OMYF, more and more toddlers are entering kindergarten with the foundation necessary for them to reach their highest potential.

In the past, the OMYF’s funding has helped augment ELCOC’s other programs, including the Infant/Toddler Teacher Credential Program.

“The Magic have been a strong contributor of ours for a long period of time,” Willis said. “This particular grant will allow us to build on the work that the Orlando Magic started with our organization about eight years ago.”

The ELCOC was one of 16 organizations that received a combined $1 million-plus from the OMYF this year. Over the past 30 years, more than $25 million has been distributed by the OMYF to empower Central Florida children.

The DeVos family’s investment in the OMYF covers all administrative costs which allows for 100 percent of all donations to go directly to the foundation to benefit children and families in need throughout Central Florida each year. The OMYF raises community dollars annually through donations, auctions and events such as the OMYF Open Golf Tournament and the upcoming 2020 Orlando Wine Festival and Auction.

The second annual Orlando Wine Festival and Auction, the signature fundraiser for the OMYF, will be held March 13-15, 2020 at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. The weekend of events is set to feature exclusive vintner dinners, an outdoor festival featuring live music, live auction displays, an e-auction, local and celebrity chefs, wineries, and food pavilions, along with Magic players and coaches. Each guest also receives an invitation to the OMYF grant ceremony, where all funds from the Orlando Wine Festival and Auction will be distributed to local nonprofit organizations. Last year's Orlando Wine Festival & Auction raised $900,000 for the OMYF.

Recently, the Magic and Magellan Jets, the sponsor of the Wine Festival’s live auction this year, unveiled many of the packages that will be available for guests of the event to bid on. They include an Aspen retreat, a harvest experience at Rudd Estate and tickets to next year’s Super Bowl in Tampa.

“The great thing about the event is the cause, first and foremost,” said John Amato, Magellan Jets’ Vice President of Aviation Consulting. “I love the fact that between the Magic and the DeVos family, they are doing such a great thing for the community. Our connection to Orlando runs very deep. And for us, who better to partner with than an organization that shares the same ideals, the same corporate core values as we do and that was evident from the very first meeting we had with them.”

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