Press Releases

Press Releases

ELC Featured on – Looking Into Why More Children Are In Foster Care

By Gail Levy/WJHG | Posted to WJHG.COM ON Thu 4:36 PM, Apr 04, 2019 | Updated: Fri 6:49 AM, Apr 05, 2019

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) – “We do have, certainly, steady numbers and increasing numbers,” said Magistrate Shannon Lord of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida.

Lord says Hurricane Michael brought more than physical destruction.

“You have people in crisis. You have people even, you know, particularly after the hurricane, that now have no housing, no stability,” said Lord.

Officials with the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida are also feeling the effects.

“We got about a 40 percent increase in the number of children served for this year so far, from where we were last year,” said Executive Director of the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida, Suzan Gage.

But both the court and the non-profit agency are searching for answers.

“Could it be Hurricane Michael? Could it be, you know, parents with opioids or is it just trauma drama or abuse or whatever it is? You just gotta step back and ask what is going on with our young children,” said Gage. Continue reading “ELC Featured on – Looking Into Why More Children Are In Foster Care”

ELC Featured on WJHG/News Channel 7 – Helping Children Cope After Hurricane Michael

By Gail Levy/WJHG | Posted to WJHG.COM ON Wed 5:13 PM, Mar 06, 2019 | Updated: Thu 6:43 AM, Mar 07, 2019

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) – Mental Health Therapist Sandra Eddington works with children to see the full effect Hurricane Michael left on young minds.

“We’re hearing a lot about nightmares, questions about if the rain is another hurricane coming with the rain or thunder,” said Eddington.

For some young children, it’s harder to express their feelings. So Eddington is working to get children to share their emotions by reading a book called ‘Once I was very, very scared’ and make drawings to go with it.

“A lot of their drawings was wind, trees, rain, doors, their house, they actually also drew their favorite toy, you know, what was gone,” said Eddington.

“That gives them words to explain what has gone on in their life,” said Quality Services Director for the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida, Donna Carnley.
Continue reading “ELC Featured on WJHG/News Channel 7 – Helping Children Cope After Hurricane Michael”

ELC Board of Directors Appoints Suzan Gage as Executive Director

There is big news coming out of Northwest Florida as our Board of Directors has appointed a new Executive Director for the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida. Suzan Gage assumed responsibilities on May 9th, 2018, and has succeeded Lynne Eldridge who recently retired as Executive Director of the Coalition. More information about Suzan, and her tenure with the coalition can be found in the press release linked below. If you would like any additional information about this transition, please email

Click Here to read the press release

Children’s Book Author Joins Local Rotarian for a Special Visit at PCB Academy

Local children’s book author Carol “Boots” Hensel visited PCB Academy in Panama City, Fla., during a special visit on Wednesday, February 21. Boots read her story “Johari’s Joy” to children while dressed in pig pajamas, and there were guest appearances from her book’s stars – Johari and Joy.

Boots is a friend of Rotarian Bob Britson, a local engineer and a volunteer with the Rotary Read Aloud program. Rotary Read Aloud is an initiative between the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida and the Rotary Club of Panama City. The program started in 2007, and has grown from a partnership with 4 School Readiness contracted providers to 22.

Each month, Rotarians visit participating Rotary Read Aloud sites in Bay County to read to children. Books and puppets are left with teachers as a gift to the program. Additionally, books are donated through the generous funding of the Rotary Club of Panama City to encourage reading and family engagement in the home. Parents complete pre- and post-Home Literacy Environment Checklists to monitor changes in behavior from the beginning to the end of the program. Parents and teachers also complete comment cards on books provided by the Early Learning Coalition. Books are selected based on the “Mind in the Making” series of activity sheets with tips to promote life skills.

During the 2016/2017 school year, Rotarians spent over 56 hours preparing for and/or reading in School Readiness contracted programs. Since its inception, thousands of books have been sent home for families to read with children. Based on feedback data from parents and teachers, parents have become more engaged and have increased the time spent reading to their children. Parents are visiting the library more, and they are adding books to their home library. Screen time for children has decreased for children involved with Rotary Read Aloud.

Rotary Read Aloud is credited to the late Julian Bennett (former Panama City Rotarian) and his long-time friend, former ELC of NW Florida Executive Director Lynne Eldridge. They wanted a program that helped increase literacy in early learners, engaged families more, and they wanted the data to support a change in behavior. Since 2007, the lives of thousands of children and families have been positively affected by Rotary Read Aloud.

The Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida is proud to partner with the Rotary Club of Panama City to “cause an revolution of positive impact to so many in our community,” as quoted by Julian’s son, Panama City Rotarian and Rotary Read Aloud Reader Derrick Bennett. To learn more about Rotary Read Aloud, visit

More about the Author: Carol “Boots” Hensel has written two books, “Johari’s Joy” and “The Zoopendous Surprise.” She is a resident of Panama City, Fla., where she lives with her husband. To learn more about Boots or to schedule an appearance, visit

News Coverage on WMBB-TV: “Rotary Promotes Reading”

ELC of NW Florida Awarded Best Group Piece for Children’s Week 2018 #GiveUsAHand Contest

The ELC of NW Florida was awarded “Best Group Piece” for their submission of hand art to the 2018 Children’s Week “Hanging of the Hands” exhibition in the Florida State Capitol. There were three awards presented for “Best Individual Hand Art,” “Most Creative,” and “Best Group Piece.” The Coalition was applauded by Children’s Week for their collaboration with the libraries throughout Northwest Florida, including participation from Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, and Washington County public libraries.

We are grateful for the partnership among Northwest Florida libraries, child care programs, and our newly-included friends at the Girl Scout Council of the Florida Panhandle.

To view the original post on the Children’s Week Facebook page, visit


Notice of Public Meeting: ELC of NW Florida Executive Committee, January 31, 2018

Notice of Public Meeting

The Executive Committee of the ELC of NW Florida Board will meet on Wednesday, January 31, 2018, at 10:00 a.m. in the Coalition Board Room in Bay County (703 W. 15th Street, Panama City, FL, 32401).

Conference Call Information

Call-in Number: 888-670-3525

Code Number: 8771123425#

Click here for the printable notice.

ELC of NW Florida Hosts First Annual Early Learning Scholastic Book Fair

The ELC of NW Florida will host an Early Learning Scholastic Book Fair from November 6-9 in their Panama City Coalition Office (703 W. 15th Street). On Thursday, November 9, the Coalition will host a Family Night from 5-7 p.m. Families and teachers of preschool children are invited to attend. Light snacks will be served, and craft stations will be available for children of all ages.

New or returning customers can contact their Family Support Specialist HERE.