Community Involvement


TrainingGrounds is appreciative for the opportunity to share with you the importance and underlying social need for more focused attention in the Early Childhood Sector. In New Orleans there is a lack of free accessible parenting education programs that cater to the parents, caregivers, and early childhood educators of the 42% of children that live below the US Census declared poverty rate. In addition, there is a limited number of quality early learning childhood seats for children under the age of 3. TrainingGrounds has worked during the past year within the New Orleans landscape using research and proven techniques to take an unique approach to changing the trajectory of our youngest children.

Early Childhood Interactions Set the Foundation

Educational research has consistently proven that there is a strong correlation between the quality of early childhood experiences and later academic success. (Louisiana Birth to Five Early Learning and Developmental Standard (ELDS)) The problem is the lack of effective parent education programs which are targeted at decreasing the rates of child abuse and neglect and improving physical, cognitive and emotional development in children. The National Parenting Education Network (NPEN) describes the goal of parent education as “strengthening families by providing relevant, effective education and support and encouraging an optimal environment for the healthy growth and development of parents/caregivers and children.”

All parents in New Orleans have a right to see their children develop cognitively, socially and emotionally in such a way they are ready for a life of learning and overall success. However, there is a lack of easily accessible programs for minority and low income parents to learn about child development, best parenting practices and early brain development all of which will greatly improve a parent’s ability to lay a solid foundation for their child’s development. Various nonprofit agencies, community action groups and city assistance programs are designed to address poverty in our city. However, parents, caregivers and early childhood educators continue to require significant assistance with developing effective strategies to create quality learning experiences for children.

In addition, in New Orleans there are over 3500 infants and toddlers on a waiting list for an early head start seat. This is unacceptable when research indicates that quality early learning experiences can produce important long-term improvements in the intellectual and social development of disadvantaged children. If these children are not offered an alternative they will end up in the 60% of American children who enter kindergarten every year unprepared and lacking the language, numeracy and social emotional skills necessary to be successful in the school and beyond.

The urgency stems from knowing 80% of a child’s brain is development by age 3. Dr. Heckman, an American economist, suggest that without resources such as “parent-coaching” and early childhood education programs, many at-risk children miss the development growth that is the foundation of success. They will suffer for the rest of their lives – and all of us will pay the price in higher social cost and declining economic fortunes.

Early Childhood Care and Education Landscape

According New Orleans Early Education Network, “ The K-12 school system in New Orleans transformed in the post-Hurricane Katrina era, and made many impressive strides in student outcomes. However, one critical element of a high quality education system has been missing: early childhood education” .

In Addition, New Orleans and that State of Louisiana face some challenging statistics:

  • Louisiana is 48th with regarding to Child Well-Being and Child Poverty (
  • In 2015, New Orleans had 23,000 children between the ages of birth and 4yrs (American Community Survey, 2015 5-Year Estimates.)
  • 42% of young children in New Orleans are living in poverty.(American Community Survey, 2015 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.)
  • Head Start and child care subsidies reach only 11% of children ages 0-3, leaving many families to find other solutions, such as relying upon family members
  • There are about 5,200 publicly funded or partially subsidized ECE seats in New Orleans, only enough to enroll about 23 percent of children under age 5 (NOEEN estimate (2016)).
  • Only 42 percent of the publicly funded seats are high-quality .( NOEEN Strategic Plan 2017)


The organization received its 501(c)(3) determination letter in April of 2017.

Mission: To assist families, educators, and communities in strengthening the foundation on which children can succeed.

Vision: All children have the solid foundation needed for future success.

TrainingGrounds, Inc. assists parents, caregivers and professionals with providing children with rich learning experiences, positive adult-child interactions and social emotional skills that will contribute to success in school and beyond. We use the following three approaches:

  1. “We PLAY Center”: The We PLAY Center is a free community based space where caregivers and children thrive through education, enrichment, community and support.
    The space is filled with age appropriate toys and activities where parents and caregivers follow the child-directed play of children 3 and under. The We PLAY Center serves as an alternative setting for the caregivers and their children who do not have access to quality early childhood learning centers/experiences. During play sessions, parent educators model appropriate adult-child interactions for parents and facilitate learning opportunities for children that stimulate brain development and foster social emotional, language, cognitive and school readiness skills. In the center, adults use narrative and parallel talk to stimulate language development. Puzzles, sorting toys and music are used to develop numeracy skills. Over time the We PLAY Center organically develops into a community and a natural support system where Center participants have access to trusted sources and a safe space to ask for assistance with parenting, nurturing and/or educating their children. Through the We PLAY Center caregivers and children both develop competence and confidence that will contribute to the child’s success in school and beyond.
  2. Parent Learning Opportunities: To complement the learning that takes place in the We PLAY Center, TrainingGrounds’ workshops and seminars are specifically designed to provide parents and caregivers with strategies and techniques to improve their parenting skills and to develop positive adult-child interactions
  3. Professional Development Workshops: TrainingGrounds works closely with early childhood professionals to send a consistent message to all individuals impacting the lives of our earliest learnings. Through professional development workshops we assist early childhood educators with understanding the “science” and “why” behind many of the standards they are being asked to implement. As well as provide them with strategies and techniques to create quality learning experiences for children.


  • We PLAY Center *
    • Opened April 25, 2017
    • 179 Families have participated in the program
    • 60% of participants returns for multiple visits
    • 1000 contacts with caregivers and children

*The We PlAY Center is currently open 3 days a week for 2 hours each day and continues to deliver programming
and attract new families.

  1. Current We PLAY Center demographics:
    • As a result of visiting the We PLAY Center:
      • 91.7% of families reported having a better understanding of ages and stages of development, feeling supported in their role as caregiver and engaging in different types of interactions with their children at home (singing songs together, telling stories, reading)
      • 83.3% of families reported being able to identify the benefits of play in child development.
      • 95.8 % of families report their children have exhibited an increase in age appropriate social skills and they have a better understanding of how to increase language development skills with their children
      • 91.6% of families either strongly agreed or agreed feeling like that they have a stronger bond with their children
      • 100% of families reported creating more opportunities for them and their children to play together and would recommend the Center to family and friends
    • Anecdotal
      • “The engaging environment is conducive for learning for both parent and child.
        The professionals who head this project prompt and interact with the children and guide parents in their role…This program has a very strong sense of community amongst the parents and children.”
      • “The staff is tremendously welcoming and knowledgeable! My son’s social and verbal skills continue to improve!”
      • “I love the interaction with the kids at the we play center…It’s a very nice space for kids to play and learn. I’m so happy I introduced my son to this type of environment. I wish the hrs were longer, but other than that it’s an excellent form of learning for my baby and it’s really preparing him for head start.”
    • Professional Development for Educators
      • 500+ Early Childhood Professionals attended workshops
      • 2000+ Children Birth-5 impacted
      • 95% stated information learned will be used
    • Parent Learning Opportunities
      • Presenter at the Power Parent Forum at Southern University of New Orleans sponsored by The United States Department of Education and Modern Parents Magazine.
      • Fall 2017: Contract with Family In Need of Services to offer 4 workshops per month for 10 months
      • Fall 2017: Contract with Family Court to offer 2 Co-Parenting workshops per month
      • Spring 2018 HealthyBlue Louisiana sponsored a 5 workshop series of Active Parenting the First Five Years

    TrainingGrounds participated in three competitive venture startup programs. Propeller, 4.0 Schools and Camelback Ventures each provided one-on-one weekly mentorship, access to high-level networks and investors, pro bono technical support, and free office space. We received financial support in the amount of $10,000 and $40,000 from 4.0 Schools and Camelback Ventures respectively. In Fall 2017, Traininggrounds won the Pitch NOLA Education Competition for their We PLAY Center and received $5500. We have received grant funding for the 2018 year from the GPOA Foundation as well as the Institute for Mental Hygiene. The Corpus Christi Community Resource Center continues to demonstrate support for our initiative by donating the use of space for our We Play Center as well as our Parent Learning Opportunity workshops. Also, the families that utilize our free We PLAY Center show their support by donating money and refreshments.

    Collaborative Organizations:
    Corpus Christi Community Center provides free space for our We PLAY Center and parent learning opportunity courses. In Fall 2017 we co-hosted with Propeller Incubator a Race and Equity in Early Childhood convening to bring awareness of the challenges facing New Orleans. We have conducted professional development workshops for Kingsley House, Total Community Action, Hoffman Early Learning Center, Families in Need of Services, Primary Colors Learning Centers, and professional organizations.

    Our Team
    Melanie Richardson, MSW, LMSW
    Melanie Richardson is a native New Orleanian who has been working in the fields of mental health and adult education for over 20 years. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and her Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. Since returning to New Orleans, Melanie has served in the role of director of a psychiatric residential treatment facility for adolescents and program director for a community based mental health rehabilitation facility, securing Joint Commission and COA Accreditations respectively.
    As the start-up operations director for both agencies, Melanie aided in turning ideas into fruition and was instrumental in providing much-needed services to the community. Her years of working with students, parents and community members in a variety of settings has afforded her valuable insight and understanding into the types of services that will allow communities and constituents to flourish. Melanie is married and has one teenage son.

    Christine Neely, M.Ed
    Christine Neely has been in the field of Education for over 20 years and has always worked to improve standards and provide resources to families and students. Christine has spent over 15 years serving as lead teacher in grades PK-3rd while working closely with administration to mentor new teachers, develop curriculum and make the switch to Common Core. Christine has
    presented at national conferences and conducted workshops about literacy development, hands on education, Brain Architecture and Mind in The Making Seven Essential Skills. She is an active member of P.E.O International which promotes educational opportunities for women worldwide. She has been married for over 21 years and has two teenage boys.

    Both Melanie and Christine have received Louisiana Pathways Certification on a wide range of topics and have both been through CLASS Observation Training.

    Our board provides a proficient mix of skills in both the education and business community.

Shelly Stocker
Board Chair
School Talent Grant Director
New School New Orleans

Michelle Frentzos
Business Manager
Louisiana Children’s Museum

Dr. Bridget Rey
Child Development Consultant
LA Dept. of Education

The advisory board is composed of an Attorney, CPA, School Psychologist and the former Board Chairman of Brooklyn Kindergarten Society. These additional members have offered consultation, feedback, and recommendations and are full supporters and champions of TrainingGrounds.


TrainingGrounds is positioning itself to make a profound impact on early childhood outcomes in New Orleans. We look forward to continued dialog on ways in which we can work together to strengthen the birth to five pipeline: a critical element in the continued improvement of New Orlean’s educational system.

To gain further insight into our company, please visit our website or visit us on Facebook. You can also watch the latest media coverage of our We PLAY Center by clicking on the following links: PitchNOLA Education Winner,  MyStartupStory:TrainingGrounds, TrainingGrounds: Taking A Stand Against Violence and Play and Learn.

Melanie Richardson, MSW, LMSW
TrainingGrounds, Inc
Co-Founder and Executive Director