Sixteen years ago, Grace Place for Children and Families was founded and an inspiring journey began. In our first year, 2004, we borrowed two rooms from the Golden Gate United Methodist Church and a bus to start a homework club for children in Golden Gate City. Our homework club had sixty students and a handful of dedicated volunteers that first year. Today, it has become our Academy of Leaders afterschool and summer program, serving nearly 400 K–12 students with a staff of more than 90 employees and volunteers. In our second year, we hired our second employee, who launched a parenting class for parents with preschool children. This class would become our nationally recognized Bright Beginnings family literacy program, empowering parents to become their children’s first and best teachers, and preparing children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed. In our fourth year, we began offering English as a second language to residents of Golden Gate, establishing our Adult Education program, which now also offers English literacy training, United States citizenship exam preparation, and digital and financial literacy training.

In our fifth year, we opened our Friday Food Pantry, now providing nutritious, fresh food to more than 200 families each week. In our sixth year, we purchased our five acre property from the Florida United Methodist Conference and began renovation of the Pfouts Family Chapel. Two years later, we developed the initial plans for our Campus Expansion Campaign, which would eventually raise more than $11M and transform our property into a beautifully purpose-built educational campus. In our ninth year, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy began investing in our Bright Beginnings family literacy program, affording us the ability to enroll more families, to enhance our curriculum and assessments, and to access research and information on new innovative strategies for the classroom.

By our tenth anniversary, construction on the campus had begun, increasing our program space from 10,000 square feet to nearly 30,000 and adding five new buildings to our campus. By our eleventh year, Grace Place had earned the support of the Naples Children & Education Foundation, who hosted guests attending their 2017 Naples Winter Wine Festival on our campus for Meet the Kids Day.

Now, sixteen years since our humble beginning, we have evolved into the educational touchstone for the Golden Gate community. With over 900 students enrolled in our comprehensive education programs, and our beautifully-re-imagined campus completed, we are poised to continue to grow in our mission to provide pathways out of poverty by educating children and families.