Imagine an outdoor place where kids and those who care for them can skip, jump, waddle, hop and make up stories along a path marked by colorful pictures, symbols, letters and numbers. Imagine reading activity signs along this path, suggesting new games and ideas for play that are a chance to practice new skills and learn new things disguised as fun. And finally, imagine that this close-to-home place makes many in our community feel good—and welcome.
Imagine no more. United Way's new Born Learning Trail is now in Waite Park!
On Tuesday, June 27, in partnership with the City of Waite Park and through Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union sponsorship, United Way of Central Minnesota introduced the area's first Born Learning Trail, located at 540 St. Andrew's Drive in Lions Park.
Learning opportunities matter
United Way understands that high-quality learning opportunities matter for children and young people. When we support learners in engaging environments and equip them with tools that nurture growth and discovery, our youngest community members are more likely to be successful and reach their fullest potential. We know that caregivers are central to this development and are children's first teachers.
United Way Born Learning Trails allow kids and caregivers to have interactive fun that promotes learning and develops young learners' brains. Located across the United Way network and in communities throughout the country, Born Learning Trails encourage family engagement, imagination and positive play through a series of 10 activity signs located along a colorfully painted outdoor path.
Bringing a Born Learning Trail to Our Community
Earlier this year, staff at Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, St. Cloud, approached United Way of Central Minnesota and asked about a collaborative project the branch could back financially and through volunteer support. The credit union wanted to assist with something that promoted community literacy, intercultural experience and children's positive interaction with caregivers and family. Partnering with United Way to install a Born Learning Trail in Central Minnesota aligned with all of Affinity Pluses' project parameters. Staff knew the credit union's Rochester, Minn., branch had previously worked with United Way of Olmsted County to install a Born Learning Trail in that community and wanted to do the same here.
Affinity Plus staff in St. Cloud valued one aspect of the Rochester trail: the signage included English, Spanish and Somali instructions. They knew a trail in our area would serve many more children and families if signage here featured all three languages. UWCM connected with Affinity Plus, Rochester, to advise and Family Engagement Manager and Somali Youth Network Facilitator, Ekram Elmoge, ensured the Somali translations were clear and accurate.
In addition, UWCM staff worked to find the right location for the project. In early February, Community Child Care Coordinator Sara Hagan presented the Born Learning Trail proposal to the City of Waite Park and got approval for the Lions Park site. Affinity Plus then met with United Way staff in late April and committed $7,500 and volunteer time for the next five years to the project. The credit union promised to remain involved and that employees would maintain the trail and do an annual clean-up at Lions Park each fall. The credit union wants to add new features to the trail in time and expand its reach by funding new United Way Born Learning Trails in other locations across Central Minnesota.
As the project moved forward early this summer, United Way collaborated with Affinity Plus to secure trail kit materials and plan for the Born Learning Trail installation. In addition to Affinity Plus volunteers, UWCM's Director of Volunteer Engagement, Mary Krippner, enlisted the help of Schlenner Wenner & Co. employees to paint shapes, letters and pictures along the length of the paved path. Installation was finally complete when city employees bolted the activity signs to posts along the trail.
An Official Start to Learning Fun
The United Way Born Learning Trail in Lions Park, Waite Park, officially opened during a ribbon-cutting ceremony conducted by Mayor Rick Miller on the afternoon of June 27. Affinity Plus supplied prizes, treats from Juniper Moon Ice Cream and lots of celebratory bubbles pouring out from numerous bubble-making machines to mark the occasion. Young child- and family-serving organizations like Milestones, Reach-Up Headstart, Great River Children's Museum and more were on hand to offer resources to visitors. United Way staff handed out Imagination Library books and celebrated with our partners during this community inauguration.
Branch Manager Bruce Prowlish, Affinity Plus, St. Cloud, is thrilled to think about what the trail will bring to our community and sums up how he hopes it will enrich interactions between young children and their caregivers: "The Born Learning Trail is an opportunity for our community to showcase its inclusivity and to bring people together. It also gives people the opportunity to kind of slow down and take a breath. You know, each trail activity is a chance for kids and parents to just be together without technology, in nature and to enjoy the outside."
He explains why he and his team are passionate about supporting the trail. "Giving back to the communities we serve really is a big part of who we are at Affinity Plus. We relay that value directly through these kinds of employee initiatives. We are excited to help in any way we can." Read more about Affinity Plus, St. Cloud's involvement in the community and the Born Learning Trail.
United Way's Born Learning Trail is an asset to Central Minnesota. Be sure to visit this summer, especially with a child you care about. And prepare to have fun!