Big news in workforce development came on Oct. 31, when the Daily State News hosted the 2023 Excellence in Education luncheon at Maple Dale County Club in Dover. Business, education and community leaders gathered to highlight Kent County educational assets and promote workforce development.
In a surprise announcement, the Excellence in Education Fund will be offering up to a $50,000 grant in 2024. After spreading about $40,000 over the past four years for small, impactful projects, organizers decided not to award the usual 2023 grants. Instead, they announced broader horizons for the next cycle: a potential a lump sum grant of up to $50,000.
“Created in 2019, the purpose of the program is to brand and market our educational initiatives to attract businesses, but also provide residents with educational opportunities to increase their skills and earning power—that’s through our grant program,” said Tonda Parks, a founder of the Excellence in Education Fund and the State News marketing/community outreach director. Job training initiatives help Kent County retain young people and increase overall workforce stability.
Excellence in Education is a county-wide partnership between the Kent County Levy Court, Kent Economic Partnership, Kent Sussex Leadership Alliance, the Daily State News and the community.
“How do we make sure that there are jobs here, and … people to fill the jobs that are coming in, and … programs that train people?” said Konrad LaPrade, State News publisher. “So that’s the genesis of the program. I’m really excited to be in a state where we have elected officials and educators and local businesspeople all together, who care about the community such that we’re all in a room, saying ‘There’s a problem and we want to fix it.’”
Since 2019, educational grants have been awarded each autumn to schools and nonprofits for programs like entrepreneurial training, IT training, work skills for teens, professional certification tests and much more. The money directly serves the public, often students and underemployed individuals. Projects are carefully evaluated on their potential to enhance workforce development, the quality of educational and training strategies, the impact on economic and community development and more.
“Each of these programs shares a common and noble focus: providing vital support to help individuals enter and thrive in the workforce,” said Parks. “It is through the collaborative efforts of these organizations and our sponsors that we are fostering economic development, breaking down barriers to employment, and creating opportunities for those who seek to build a brighter future for themselves and their families. The impact of their work resonates deeply within our community, making it stronger, more inclusive and more prosperous.”
With community support, the Excellence in Education Fund has raised over $100,000 in donations and pledges. Multi-year marketing partners include Delaware Department of Education, Capital School District, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College, Milford School District, POLYTECH School District and Wilmington University. Support also comes from signature sponsor Delaware Solid Waste Authority and multi-year sponsors Axia Hotel Group, Hawkins & Associates at Merrill Lynch and Mountain Consulting.
“When you look at the people who are in this room, this is one huge partnership that has resulted in many successes in Kent County, and we need to have the vision to look forward many years to keep this program going,” said Kent County Commissioner Jody Sweeney standing in for Terry Pepper at the Oct. 31 event. Excellence in Education will have a “positive ripple effect on the overall educational landscape and economic vitality of central Delaware—and I don’t see anybody better to lead into this future than Tonda Parks.”
“I’m so excited to see where we go with this,” agreed guest speaker Jen Cohan, CEO of Leadership Delaware Inc., a Kent County graduate and past Secretary of Transportation. “I think the recipients of the award in the past have been phenomenal. I’m excited about the applications coming in, in the future.” Sharing the parable of the child who throws beached starfishes back into the ocean, Cohan marveled at the individual programs that help Delawareans move forward. “Find your starfishes, throw them back, and make a difference,” she told attendees.
When the 2024 grant cycle opens, details and qualifications will be listed at cendelfoundation.org. The Excellence in Education Fund is managed by the CenDel Foundation at (302) 724-7538 or cendelfoundation.org. Sponsorship and partnership opportunities are also available by contacting Tonda Parks at email firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 270-8663.
Learn more about Excellence in Education in the 2023 event publication, online at BaytoBayNews.com/SpecialSections.