First 5 Lex Partner Spotlight: PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

We are kicking off a new blog series to show our appreciation for our First 5 Lex community partners and supporters! Today, we get to TALK with Yajaira West, Vice President and Client & Community Relations Director at PNC.

Yajaira and her children at Bernheim Forest

PNC is more than just a bank. Since 2004, they have impacted over 5 million children through their Grow Up Great® initiative. This initiative helps children from birth until age 5 prepare for success in school and life. By focusing on early childhood education, they seek to positively impact school readiness, which leads to stronger, smarter and healthier children who will grow up to positively impact their families and communities. You can learn more about PNC’s other philanthropic efforts here.

Let’s learn more about PNC in our question and answer session with Yajaira!

Tell us about PNC and the services you provide to customers and community members.

The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (PNC) is one of the largest diversified financial services institutions in the United States. PNC has employees in more than 40 states across the country; a retail branch network located in markets across the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southeast; and strategic international offices in four countries outside the U.S. PNC is organized around its customers and communities for building strong relationships and is engaged in retail banking, including residential mortgage, corporate and institutional banking, and asset management.

Can you tell us about PNC’s commitment to the community? What are some of the initiatives with which PNC is involved?

At PNC Bank, community investment is foundational to our values and interwoven within our corporate culture. We know we are only as successful as those we serve, which is why we seek to strengthen the communities where we live and work by providing resources that help improve early childhood education, create stability and enhance well-being.

We look to support our local arts and culture community through various non-profit partnerships. We know that a thriving arts community brings significant value to our local economy by attracting and retaining a vibrant, talented workforce. Additionally, PNC has dedicated support to national and local organizations working to help eliminate systemic racism and promote social justice; expand financial education and workforce development initiatives; and enhance low-income neighborhood revitalization and affordable housing.

Lakeshore Learning kits paid for by PNC Grow Up Great initiative. In August 2020, 1,000 of these kits were distributed to Fayette County Public Schools.

What sets PNC apart in terms of community outreach?

We implement a local delivery model to address the individual needs of each community we serve throughout our footprint so we can have a greater impact through various investments and philanthropic initiatives. Through this model, we engage with local nonprofits to enhance early childhood educational opportunities and promote community development. PNC is proud to be a member of the ever-growing community in Kentucky and looks forward to providing long-term investments toward its future.

How long has PNC Bank been a part of the First 5 community team?

PNC has been part of the First 5 community team since its inception. Our work began prior to the formal creation of First 5 Lex. PNC and Fayette County Public Schools began working together 10 years ago to create the “Countdown to Kindergarten” program. We came together to coordinate 13 local agencies to provide free, quality and educational Summer activities for the entering class of Fayette County Kindergarten students. The success of that program helped create the foundation for what became First 5 Lex.

Why did PNC decide to partner with First 5 Lex?

In 2004 PNC made the decision to focus on early childhood education through our signature initiative Grow Up Great®. Extensive research indicates that the return on investments in high-quality early education and school readiness initiatives are significant and long-lasting - impacting our children, our society and the health of our economy for generations to come.

PNC’s investments in early childhood education come in the form of grants, volunteerism, advocacy and awareness.

Nationally, we work with Sesame Workshop, Fred Rogers Productions, National Head Start Associations, DonorsChoose and the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago. Alliances are formed to implement the components of Grow Up Great® on a local level. First 5 Lex is an ideal committee for PNC to be a part of and support. First 5 Lex was thoughtful in crafting its committee by bringing together diverse businesses and early childhood advocates. From healthcare to finance, First 5 Lex creates unique collaborations in order to support the earliest learners within our community of Lexington.

What is the Grow Up Great® initiative?

PNC Grow Up Great® is a $500 million, multi-year, bilingual initiative that began in 2004. To date, the program has served over 6.9 million children. Founded by The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., and supported by the PNC Foundation, PNC Grow Up Great® is a comprehensive, bilingual program designed to help prepare children - particularly underserved children – for success in school and life. Through the program, PNC emphasizes the importance of the first five years of life, which research has shown is critical to long-term achievement, and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community partners to enhance children’s learning and development. An investment in pre-K students makes good economic sense and plants the seeds for the dynamic workforce of tomorrow.

PNC Grow Up Great® has focused on helping children beyond the classroom by supporting learning and social-emotional development at home and across communities. This is accomplished through free resources and tools provided to parents, guardians, caregivers and neighborhood organizations.

Access to high-quality early childhood education and resources is critical. Research shows that quality early education reduces dropout rates, poverty and crime while improving the skills of tomorrow’s workforce.

Lakeshore Learning kits paid for by PNC Grow Up Great initiative. In August 2020, 1,000 of these kits were distributed to Fayette County Public Schools.

Why do you think the First 5 message - to read, talk and play with little ones each day - is so important?

In 2019, the PNC Foundation announced it was awarding a $100,000 grant to Fayette County Public Schools First 5 Lex initiative, as part of the 15th anniversary celebration of PNC Grow Up Great®. The two-year grant was designed to support the specific needs of preschool learners by providing community-based educational experiences for families with young children or professional learning and skill-development for current or future early childhood educators.

First 5 Lex gives families and caregivers access to information about early learning and connects them to fun, stimulating, age-appropriate activities that will support their young children’s development and learning. First 5 Lex makes it fun for children to learn as they READ, TALK, PLAY their way to kindergarten readiness.

Beginning to read, talk and play early is important because the roots of language are developing in a baby's brain even before they can talk. While it might seem like your baby isn’t paying attention just being surrounded by new words as they listen to a book is an incredible resource for the child as they develop.

In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?

First 5 Lex has already made such a positive impact on our community by forming the committee and collaborating in a cohesive way to produce quality programming for our children from birth to age five and their families. From Countdown to Kindergarten to the educational posters located in various restaurant facilities across Lexington, First 5 Lex understands that every moment is a learning moment. It also helps parents understand that teaching young children doesn’t have to be complicated or need many tools. First 5 Lex produces materials that families from any walk of life can pick up and use to teach our young learners. First 5 Lex has led initiatives that are supported by large corporations to the smallest businesses run by a local entrepreneur. It has been a positive and driving force in our community to raise awareness about the importance of early childhood education.

Photo from Be My Neighbor Day (BMND) that was organized by KET, PNC Grow Up Great and Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Family Care Center. The event included a “reverse parade” in which families drove in their cars and community partners set up booths and waved to the families. All participants got a photo with Daniel Tiger and a free meal.

How do you hope to continue to partner with First 5 in the future?

First 5 Lex has so many creative ideas. The committee wants to engage the entire community to help support quality early childhood education and it is exciting to be a partner in each of its initiatives. PNC will continue to support First 5 Lex as it grows its resources and expands across the community.

Just for fun with Yajaira West:

What is your favorite children’s book to READ?

For me, one of my favorite times of day is at night when it is time to settle in and read books with my seven and three-year-old. They each get to pick the books for the night and we read anything from fairytales to historical fiction. My favorite is when they pick books from my childhood like Berenstain Bears, unless it’s late… those books are so long and now that the girls can read I cannot skip any words!!! Most recently I’ve been excited because, after two years of begging, my seven-year-old is finally into the Harry Potter series. We are on book three and it’s just such a magical world that I am thrilled to share with her.

Yajaira and her children at Ashland, the Henry Clay estate

If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?

Play to me is time with family and friends. Anytime I can unplug and run around outside with the kids or go for a walk is playtime. When the weather is bad outside, we move all the furniture and blow up a bounce house inside our living room. It is a very tight fit and the kids can’t jump too high…but we still have a blast. It is these moments of play that I cherish.

If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?

Today, it would be associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am fascinated by her story and her drive for justice. She seemed to be a woman of power, strength, compassion and so much knowledge. It would be an honor to have watched her work and learn from her successes but also from her failures. I look forward to learning more about her posthumously.

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