The $16.5 million Zero to Five Initiative from the Headwaters Foundation was launched on Thursday at the SpectrUM Center on Toole Avenue amid a happy throng of supporters from the University of Montana, many community agencies.

CEO of the Headwaters Foundation, Brenda Solorzano, was thrilled by the enthusiastic reception.

“We’re here to celebrate the launching of the Zero to Five Initiative which is a multi-year initiative which will be working at both the grassroots and treetop levels to help make sure that every child in Montana has a healthy start,” said Solorzano. “Headwaters is launching this initiative with a $17 million commitment over the next six years. We have been talking wit h communities up and down western Montana and asking them where Headwaters should invest its resources and they said if we can invest these resources in our children and create a better future for them, then we can affect real change so that every child can grow up healthy.”

Solorzano said there are two specific elements of the strategic initiative.

“One is investing in local communities working on improving healthy pregnancies and helping parents be more resilient and trying to ensure that every child is ready to learn,” she said. “We’re doing that in four communities, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula and Butte, but eventually to have such collaboratives in every community across the state.”

Dean of the UM College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, said UM is empowered to administer the grant.

“The focus of this grant allows us to really build a stronger collaboration to improve health outcomes,” he said. “All of this is going to better upstream focus on our curriculum to better prepare healthcare practitioners to work in that space.”

Anchored at UM, the Zero to Five program office will bring together the expertise of three organizations: the UM Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development; Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies; and the Childwise Institute.