This veteran educator and advocate will head a $50 million effort to educate Detroit’s youngest students

Decades after Denise Smith ran a home-based child care center, she’s returning to Detroit to lead a project designed to transform the city’s education offerings for young children.

Smith was named the first director of Hope Starts Here, a $50 million effort to expand child care in Detroit and improve existing programs, a spokesman announced Wednesday.

“The fact that 28,000 Detroit children lack access to quality child care is just one measure of how far we have to go,” Smith said in a statement.

Backed by the Kresge and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, the Hope Starts Here initiative has focused in its first two years on supporting existing child care programs. (Both foundations fund Chalkbeat.)

Smith comes on board as the initiative breaks ground on a $15 million early childhood center at Marygrove College that will complement a new K-12 school on the same campus.

Smith spent the last decade leading various early childhood initiatives in Michigan, including:

  • Executive director of Flint Early Childhood Collaborative and Educare-Flint
  • Vice president for early childhood, Excellent Schools Detroit
  • Director of Great Start to Quality, the state’s child care rating system

She said her experiences as a parent and as a caregiver for her nine-year-old niece have convinced her of the importance of early education.

“Once you’ve seen the difference that having opportunity can make in the trajectory of a child’s life you know what’s possible,” she said in a statement. “Yes, it’s hard. But it can be done. Now we have the right pieces to take the limits off of children’s lives in Detroit, and we can do it early.’’