School readiness backpacks, books for the early childhood years, learning totes and early childhood training – these all describe the focus of a developing partnership in Isanti County. 

The Early Childhood Partnership is a nonprofit organization that partners with parents, early childhood providers and community organizations to provide books, backpacks and learning totes to families with preschool children. 

The group was birthed in 2004 by a group of people who believed that investing in the lives of young children is important and necessary. 

The initial goals were to design and distribute resources to parents of young children, prepare children for their kindergarten experience, provide health and dental screenings, and build a network for training early childhood workers.  

Recent co-directors are Kim Goodmanson, who came on board the partnership in 2012, and Erika Zdon, who joined in 2014. They have increased the training opportunities and development of learning resources throughout Isanti County.  

“Parents are the child’s first and most important teachers,” said Goodmanson. “We will continue our work to support parents in that role, as well as support others who play a significant role in a child’s development.”

The Early Childhood Partnership for Isanti County includes representation from Cambridge-Isanti Early Childhood, the Adventure Center, East Central Regional Library, Heavenly Sunshine Preschool, Allina Community Engagement, Cambridge Christian School, Public Health and Cambridge-Isanti Community Education. 

Backpacks, Books and totes for learning

Goodmanson and Zdon designed readiness backpacks to give families which include games, activities, books and information on preparing children for kindergarten. 

These are distributed by Allina Hospital, Public Health and the Workforce Center, who give feedback on parent interest.  

Learning totes were also developed filled with learning activities that encourage interaction between caregivers and kids, as well as reading, talking and singing. 

There are currently 70 totes in circulation that can be checked out at the East Central Regional library system or some local early childhood centers.  

Funding is also used to repair or replace parts in these learning totes. 

More resources will be developed over time, to better prepare young children for their kindergarten experience.  

The Early Childhood Partnership for Isanti County also participates in Cambridge Day Out and Kids’ Day at the Isanti County Fair. Books are distributed, based on the funds available. They hope to continue to give out books on a regular basis. 

Training teachers and parents

The Partnership also focuses on early childhood training. 

 Events are open to anyone desiring to learn about working with young children, and are also professional development opportunities for early childhood staff. They can receive CEUs (continuing education credits) when they attend. 

Depending on where an event is held and the topic offered, the trainings have had between 40 and 300 people attend. Speakers are evaluated by those attending, and this also gives participants the opportunity to suggest further training topics. 

The next topic, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 12, will be on social and emotional development of young children. Further information can be found by calling Kim Goodmanson at 763-691-6612.  

The foundation and future

The Early Childhood Partnership began in 2004 through the efforts of a group of people that included John Schlagel from Schlagel Inc., Chris Miller, Director of Teaching and Learning in Cambridge-Isanti’s school district, and David Mauer, Community Education Director for District # 911.  

Initial funding for the program came through a grant opportunity from the Initiative Foundation. Mauer and Miller wrote the first grant, which was accepted. Cambridge-Isanti Schools was given $15,000 at that time. 

“It was an opportunity presented by the Initiative Foundation,  and was inspired by the work of Art Rolnick, Minnesota economist,” says Mauer. 

Then, in 2008, yearly grant monies became available to expand the project. This enabled even more growth. 

A little later, the Initiative Foundation let the Early Childhood Partnership know that the grant funding would be ending. 

“They also presented an opportunity to create an early childhood foundation that would help continue the work of the coalition,” said Mauer. 

In 2019, a foundation was formed to provide ongoing support for the Early Childhood project. 

“Coalition members are currently working to raise funds for the foundation,” explains Mauer. “An exciting piece of that is that the Initiative Foundation will match all the money we raise, dollar for dollar, until December 31st.”

The Early Childhood Partnership for Isanti County looks forward to more growth in the next year. They believe that as they continue to build relationships with those in the community who care for these youngest citizens, more will be accomplished and the impact will be even greater. 

Anyone wishing to get involved can email or call 763-691-6612. Donations can also be made at:

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