In the late 1960s, insightful staff from the Raleigh City Schools (now Wake County Public School System) and staff at the Wake County Mental Health Center and Dorothea Dix Child Psychiatry recognized that strengthening a child’s social and emotional development in the early years would have long-term benefits. It is during these foundational years that connections in the brain are formed and reinforced. They were committed to finding a way to provide services to young children. Together these visionaries wrote a federal grant that was funded in 1969. Since that time Project Enlightenment has offered prevention and early intervention services to young children (birth through kindergarten), in Wake County, by providing services to the primary caregivers in their lives. In 1973, staff at Project Enlightenment wrote and received an 8-year staffing grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to continue the work they had started. It was the first time that a school system had received mental health funding – a unique blend of educational and mental health services. Since that time Project Enlightenment has been supported and funded by the Wake County Public School System and has received many grants that have allowed the program to continue and expand services.
In the 1970‘s and 1980’s Project Enlightenment became a model early intervention program for the state of North Carolina. The program was written up in the book, Successful Innovations in Child Guidance, by G. Lee Judy. This book selected Project Enlightenment as one of seven “best children’s programs in the country.” Over the years visitors from all over the state of North Carolina, other states and countries have come to visit Project Enlightenment – a forerunner in the early intervention field. In the late 1990’s the program received funding from Wake County Smart Start for the Parents As Teachers Home Visiting Program and for Quality Enhancement for child care centers. Project Enlightenment later received funding from the Federal Government as a part of the Early Reading First program to develop literacy programming for preschool children. In 2001, the program received funding from Wake County Smart Start to implement a Transition to Kindergarten Program to serve children who have not had preschool experiences the year prior to kindergarten. In 2013, Project Enlightenment received funding from John Rex Endowment to plan and implement a Triple P Positive Parenting Program to train community partners and staff to provide parent education programs to families in Raleigh. In 2017, additional funding from John Rex Endowment expanded Triple P Training programs and services to families in Wake County. In 2017, funding was also received from Wake County Smart Start to expand Triple P services to families in homeless shelters and to provide parenting sessions in homes where families do not have transportation.
The Project Enlightenment program is dedicated to promoting children’s success in school and life and provides a comprehensive array of early childhood services. The staff includes educators, child development specialists, psychologists and counselors. Services include classroom consultation, developmental screenings, demonstration preschool classrooms, a home visiting program, parent education classes and counseling, and consultation and training for early childhood professionals. The Project Enlightenment Parent Teacher Resource Center houses a wealth of early childhood education books, articles, and materials for parents, teachers, and children.
In 2019, Project Enlightenment celebrated its 50th year of service to young children, families, and providers.