The developer of the APEX project at Canyons Village, which is nearing completion, and the 152-unit Pendry Residences, which plans to break ground later this month, has stepped up to help fund the Early Childhood Initiative, a project funded through the Park City Community Foundation. The program will help benefit the children of immigrants, the immigrants who he will eventually need to staff his development projects.
Brian Shirken, President of Columbus Pacific and his wife Kirsten, have been building in Park City for more than 10 years, first single family homes, now larger resort projects at the base of Canyons Village.
The couple’s passion, though, is for the places they live and the people and institutions in their community. In an interview on KPCW’s Mountain Money, Brian Shirken said he approached the Community Foundation because they know what Park City’s needs are and the organizations that are trying to address those needs.
“The Community Foundation,” Shirken said, “has just been a fantastic partner. They have their finger on the pulse of the community needs, the organizations that help to meet those needs and the relationships to put together the coalition to solve the problem.”
Last year, Shirken penned an editorial to the Salt Lake Tribune urging Congress to recognize that immigration is good for business and to make room for immigrants who bring, as he put it, “much-needed talent to keep our economy growing.”
As an immigrant himself from South Africa, he understands the immigrant’s plight.
“I’m also distressed about the demonization of immigrants in the U.S. particularly in relation to the fact the vast majority of them come here for the same opportunity I came here for and they’re working to make a better life for their families,” said Shirken. "When we look at it in a local context, of the vast majority of workers in the hospitality industry being immigrants, or families of immigrants, and the fact that they don’t have access to basic resources to me, is just unacceptable.”
He says the Community Foundation feels the greatest need for immigrants in the community is in the area of children -- infants to age 3. Most have two working parents and are put in home daycare, which he says means they spend a lot of time in a car seat in front of a television.
“And what that results in is kids going into kindergarten who are unprepared,” said Shirken. "They don’t have the language skills, the social skills the academic skills to succeed. And the vast majority of them never catch up. And the dropout rates of these kids in high school are dramatic. In some cases, over 70%. And we felt a small investment at this stage of their development would result in an enormous cost saving at a later stage. And their ability to contribute to our community in a much greater way later.”
Shirken says they are committed to solving the day care problem and have put money towards the Early Childhood Initiative.
“We have put a strategy in place with the Community Foundation and we made the lead gift toward executing the strategy to eliminate the waiting list,” Shirken said. "There’s a waiting list of up to 100 kids between the ages of zero and three looking to access preschool facilities and we have enabled them to hire coordinators and leaders of this initiative and to put the fundraising mechanisms in place that will raise over $1 million over the next 2 years to eliminate this issue and to put the infrastructure in place to ensure that this issue is eliminated long term.”
He’s hopeful that in a couple of years every child in Summit County will be kindergarten-ready by the age of 5.
“I hope to be sitting here two years from now telling you that every kid between the age of 0 and 3 has access to an early child care facility and has access to a program that the Holy Cross Ministries delivers which is the parents as teachers program where they educate parents as to the needs of their children and identify issues with children at a very early stage,” Shirken said.
Shirken and his wife are doing this in partnership with the Community Foundation, Holy Cross Ministries and PC Tots.
“This coalition that we put together in conjunction with them,” Shirken said, “includes all the ski mountains in the area and most of the major hotels in the area because these are the people who are employing the members of the community that are most affected by this issue and will most benefit by the problem being solved.”
You can learn more about the Early Childhood Initiative by clicking on this link.