The Women’s Fund of South Central Kentucky announced Tuesday this year’s annual grant finalists are the Family Enrichment Center, Friends of the Lost River, South Central Kentucky Kids on the Block and The Foundry Christian Community Center.

In the fall, the Women’s Fund’s 400-plus membership will vote for one of the four finalists to receive the $110,000 impact grant. The three runners-up will each receive $10,000.

“I wish we could give $110,000 to all four,” said Jennifer Wethington, executive director of the Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky, which oversees the Women’s Fund.

A grant committee consisting of more than a dozen volunteers sifted through hundreds of pages of project proposals to select the four finalists. This year, each finalist shares the common theme of education.

The Family Enrichment Center wants to expand “Little Learners,” an early childhood education program that positions parents as teachers until children reach kindergarten – as early learning is essential for brain development and later academic success.

“It’s always an honor to be included in such a fine group of nonprofits serving women and children,” Executive Director Nickie Jones said. “For us, being a small nonprofit, grants like this (are) huge.”

For the second year in a row, Friends of the Lost River is a finalist for its proposal to build an outdoor classroom. The “nature education pavilion” would encourage screen-free education near the wildflower prairie in Lost River Cave’s 70-acre nature preserve.

“The nomination is a recognition that what we’re doing in the community is starting to matter to the community,” Executive Director Rho Lansden said.

The pavilion and the accompanying educational programs will get children outdoors and offer them an opportunity “to learn about the value that nature will have in their everyday lives,” Lansden said.

The Kids on the Block wants to expand its puppetry program that teaches kindergarten through sixth grade students about child abuse – including physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Though Kids on the Block programs target topics ranging from bullies to bike safety, Executive Director Ashley Reynolds said the child abuse program is the most important.

“Kentucky ranks first for child abuse,” Reynolds said. “Our 16,000 children across all 10 counties would get child abuse education. We’ve been in the top four (Women’s Fund grant finalists) four out of seven years. Every year, we tweak our projects a little more.”

The Foundry, which offers preschool and after-school programs for young students in the impoverished community of Bowling Green’s west end, plans to double its preschool capacity in the next four years, beginning with an expansion of the campus and the number of classrooms.

“We are so excited, with this, that means we have a dream and a plan ... and a possibility for this dream to come true,” said Susan McCloud, director of education at The Foundry.

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggersdailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

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