How One Promise Is Worth $15 Million 

Inspired by PNC’s signature philanthropic program, Grow Up Great, Cincinnati employee Cheryl Rose helped to create a city-wide effort called the Preschool Promise. The approach will help children become kindergarten ready and is being studied nationally as a new collaborative model for early childhood education.

CINCINNATI – As a young, single mom earning poverty wages, Cheryl Rose understood how difficult it was to afford quality childcare. At the time, access through a state-funded program was a life saver for her and her son.

“It gave him a great start in school and in life. I viewed that as a game changer for us because it allowed me to develop a successful career, including senior leadership roles,” said Rose.

Not only was I inspired to do something more, but when I share my story, other young mothers are inspired that they can do it too.

And then she used that experience to help provide a similar opportunity for other families. Rose, along with a Cincinnati-based steering committee, developed the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, a program which helps to address the issue of children being unprepared for kindergarten. Currently, more than 40 percent of the city’s children, especially those in low-income areas, begin kindergarten unprepared.

Located in the Cincinnati Public School system, the Preschool Promise will guarantee an increased number of children to have access to two years of high-quality preschool. It will provide additional funds - $75 million over five years - from available state and federal funds to allow preschools, including Head Starts, to expand and educate more children.

The initiative is now being studied throughout the country as a new collaborative model for early childhood education.

“Working on this project was a natural fit for me. It’s a passion that’s very near and dear to my heart,” said Rose, a CFA and Hawthorn employee since July 2011. “When I joined PNC, one of the best decisions I made was becoming involved in Grow Up Great. It fostered my passion for early childhood education.”

First-Hand Inspiration

Rose knew early childhood education was her passion long before she started her career.

“I had a bumpy start when I was a young adult. I dropped out of college, had a child on my own and worked as a waitress earning low wages.”

At first she struggled to find quality child care for her son, but was able to enroll him in a Head Start classroom through a voucher program.

Although her son benefitted from a Head Start education, Rose didn’t understand just how big of an impact it made.

I didn’t understand the power of early childhood education until I attended an event. They showed us a brain scan and explained everything that happens before age 6, and that made a huge impression on me.

Preschool Promise is Born

Rose joined the United Way in 2007 and eventually joined the Success by 6 Executive Steering Committee, a United Way group that focuses on advocating for early childhood education.

In 2013, Rose and a small group from the Cincinnati Chamber’s leadership program created a grassroots community project that gained momentum that no other project had before. It eventually was titled The Preschool Promise.

Despite the abundance of community support, funding was a barrier; however, under Rose and her co-chair’s leadership, the community and constituents, including businesses, nonprofits, labor unions, faith-based organizations and school districts, came together with the solution of a tax increase.

A community vote resulted in $15 million annually in new funding for preschools over the next five years.

“We are currently building the program and will launch in August in conjunction with the new school year,” said Rose. “There is a lot of work to do, but we built an incredible and diverse board of leaders including a university president and a retired Fortune 500 CEO.”

Award for Impact

Cheryl Rose accepting United Way award

For their work and passage of the program over the past three years, Rose and her Cincinnati Preschool Promise co-chair are receiving one of the city’s most prestigious United Way awards.

The Impact Leadership Award recognizes the contributions of individuals or groups who have made meaningful strides in advancing United Way’s agenda for community impact. 

“We want to increase access to quality preschool for children in the community through the Preschool Promise,” said Rose. “In this instance, we impacted the community by setting a goal of helping 80 percent of children be prepared for Kindergarten by 2020.”

Winners were presented with the award at the Leaders and Legends Luncheon on Wednesday April 19, 2017 at Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.

“I want nothing less than for everyone in our community – especially our most at-risk kids – to get a fair start in life, and this program is key,” said Rose. “The solution is so simple. The investment so small.”  

Cheryl Rose
Cheryl Rose is receiving one of the city’s most prestigious United Way awards for her leadership over the past three years in the creation and passage of the Preschool Promise.

The economic benefit and returns on this project are exponential, estimated around $2 to $4 for every $1 invested. By investing the time and money now, fast forward 10 years and ideally you have a stronger economy and middle class, higher employment rate and more buying power.

- Cheryl Rose