Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative

Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) is an initiative that is vested in changing the current reality of vulnerable children.

In order to create this change, ELNC has designed and is currently implementing an intentional Early Childhood Education service system aimed at providing, expanding and sustaining the capacity of high quality early care and education programs in the vulnerable neighborhoods of Grand Rapids.


We envision a community where all children, regardless of the neighborhood in which they live, are able to thrive developmentally and educationally allowing them to fully embrace their potential and become self sufficient adults.


“The Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative will create, provide and support targeted neighborhood collaborative partners with technical, developmental and educational resources and increase the accessibility of early childhood education for vulnerable children through advocacy.”


ELNC is a trusted, place-based early learning collaborative that provides funding, innovative shared support services, and advocacy to partner organizations rooted in vulnerable communities. Through its successful dual-generational model, ELNC and its partners provide family support and high-quality early childhood educational services to at-risk families.

Outcomes: Driven, results oriented – We must ensure our children develop and are educated, not by our good works, but by evidence of their increasing knowledge, skills and abilities.

Cultural Competence: Children develop and grow best in ways that are consistent with the cultural rhythms and patterns of their families.

Creativity and Innovation: Current efforts leave far too many children in under resourced neighborhoods lagging behind in development and education. We must find and use new and different objectives, strategies, and activities to help our children thrive.

Place-Based: We are committed to the belief that the best environment for the early education of children is rooted in what is local-the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place–that is, in a child’s own “place” or immediate schoolyard, neighborhood, town or community.

Our Members

Nkechy Ezeh

Dr. Nkechy Ezeh’s life embodies education – she believes in using quality early childhood education to change the lives of vulnerable children. She is a tenured professor at Aquinas College and founder, pedagogical leader of the landmark Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) – a trusted, place-based early learning collaborative that provides funding, innovative shared support services, and advocacy to partner organizations rooted in vulnerable communities. Through its successful two-generational model, ELNC and its partners provide family support and high-quality, culturally competent early childhood educational services to at-risk families. Ezeh led the expansion of ELNC Model in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.

Ezeh completed her BA and M.Ed. at Grand Valley State University, and Ed.D in Child and Youth Studies with specialization in Curriculum Development and Systemic Change from Nova Southeastern University. She was one of the US delegates to Reggio Emilia, Italy and a panelist on the Oxford University Early Literacy Round Table.


Dr. Ezeh recently published her memoir – Nwaenyi: Child of an Elephant: Lessons Learned From My Father, a Nigerian Chief, About Child Development and Affirmations.


Her work as the founder of the landmark Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) have earned her speaking engagements around the world and numerous awards – including the 2021 Aquinas College Distinguished Service Award, 2020 Grand Rapids Community College Distinguished Alumni of the Year, 2019 Recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Community Trustee Award highest from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, 2018 West Michigan Woman of the Year, one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan, in 2018, the 2017 Sojourner Truth Award and 2016 GVSU Alumni of the Year and Giant in Education Award.

Nkechy and her husband Pius have five children: Onyinye MK, Obinna, Akuezumkpa, Nnenna and Nkechy-Nicole.

Eva Martinez
Community Engagement Director

Eva Martinez is the Community Engagement Director for the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative and has been with the organization since it opened in 2011. Eva began her career in the education field at the age of 15 working for a summer migrant program. As a child of parents who spoke only Spanish and a father who was illiterate, Eva was able to relate to the hardships they experienced. Observing what her older siblings and parents had experienced growing up in the similar environment, she could empathize with families, their struggles with poverty and language that impacted their lives. Eva continued to work for the Summer Migrant Programs all through her high school years and even returned several summers as she grew into adulthood.

Eva moved to Kalamazoo in her twenties and began her experience working with urban families. Eventually, she ended up working in a parenting program for young moms at the Kalamazoo Public Schools for thirteen years. She continued to take classes in business and early childhood, and by 1999 had acquired 90 credit hours at a community college. But her second passion resurfaced and she took a big jump to acquire her Bachelors in Fine Arts at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids.

Upon graduation, she was able to practice her art and combine it with her love for children in the Roosevelt Neighborhood. Using her art skills as a tool, she was able to engage women and youth of all ages, connecting with families throughout the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. Eva’s career at the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative has given her the opportunity to showcase her skills as an advocate for the most vulnerable families and their children. Eva enjoys spending time creating art and pursuing her passion for jewelry making.