Partner Spotlight: Greensboro Bound

Greensboro Bound’s vision is to bring outstanding writers of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, young adult, and children’s books to our community and into our schools. While it may be best known for the annual Greensboro Bound Literary Festival, the organization’s efforts to connect authors and Guilford County Schools students are highly praised.

“We find local authors, North Carolina authors, and diverse authors and bring these authors virtually now to our students,” said Natalie Strange, Director of Library Media Services at Guilford County Schools and a member of Greensboro Bound’s leadership team. “We also provide books for our school libraries that accompany these author visits.”

Guilford County students have the opportunity to read the text, then submit questions to the author. During the virtual visit, the author and students have great conversations about the topics, themes, and more. Greensboro Bound also creates lesson plans with each title so school library media coordinators can incorporate them.

Traditionally, these author visits have been offered to students in kindergarten through grade 12. But in the 2021-22 school year, a partnership with Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) helped create a new opportunity for children in Pre-K.“Working with our early learning department, we figured out a way to structure these visits for younger students and pre-readers,” Strange said. “We created shorter videos, incorporated songs, explored the story, and let them see what it’s like to talk with an author.”

The book they chose was Laundry Day by Jessixa Bagley. It’s about two bored badgers who get a little carried away while helping their mother.

“Students got hands-on learning by sorting different types of socks and using clothespins to put them on a laundry line, ” Strange said. “Thanks to Ready Ready, each student was given a copy of the book to take home. We knew it made a lasting impression when one of our students came in for book character day, and she had pinned old clothes, baby clothes, and socks on herself so she could be a character from that book.”

Strange said the lesson plans could also be used for Pre-K students in the 2022-23 school year since the author permitted the videos to be used again and again. “The students build a relationship with the author and the text, so now these characters have true meaning to them. It’s the beginning of a partnership that will continue to bring support for our young students as they become readers.”

Staff profile: Mollie Blafer

Network Data and Systems Specialist Mollie Blafer planned to focus on early childhood education as a college student but found herself drawn to sociology and switching majors for her undergraduate degree. After earning her M.Ed. in College Student Personnel Administration, she settled into advising college students on their academic and career goals.

“I worked in the service learning office during grad school and loved working with the nonprofits I was connecting our students to,” Blafer said. “When I learned about Ready Ready, the opportunity felt like a great blend of all the skills I gained, my interest in early childhood education, and preparing people to put their best foot forward.”

Blafer joined Ready for School, Ready for Life as a Community Alignment Specialist in 2020 and recently saw a change as our organization grew and flourished. “I was liaising with our technology consultants to help our community and program partners integrate with our database. I found I was consulting with our programs about how the Integrated Data System can benefit them and doing more reporting and working to help build out our navigation services and strategy.”

A Class of 2022 graduate of Leadership High Point, Blafer particularly enjoyed the class project. “We made a sensory garden and built a story walk at the High Point Library to give back to the community and connect to early literacy. As someone who lives in Greensboro, the ability to learn more about High Point and meet more colleagues at other organizations was invaluable.”

Photo of Mollie and her cat MaddieBlafer adopted an orange tabby cat before the pandemic, which surprised her because she had a longstanding fear of cats after a neighbor’s kitty hissed aggressively at her when she was a child. “I wanted a pet but lived in a small studio apartment,” Blafer recalled. “So, a friend convinced me to visit a pet adoption fair. I picked up Maddie, and she let me hold her. Something about her energy clicked, and I called to adopt her the next day. And now I love all cats.”

Other hobbies include traveling, especially to visit family in New Jersey, practicing yoga, playing kickball in a rec league, and joining almost any community event. “I love being around my friends, and I really just love anything community-orient

Staff profile: Stormi Covington

Network Director Stormi Covington joined Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) in July 2019. She was familiar with Ready Ready’s mission from a previous role at Greensboro Housing Authority. “After I left the agency, I saw the position open at Ready Ready and I’ve been here ever since.”

Covington’s work at Ready Ready includes working with community partners, systems, and individuals to align services in Guilford County. She put it simply, “I’m a connector.”

Covington researches programs for connections with her godson P.J. in mind. He was born a week after she started her career at Ready Ready. “Researching programs for children ages 0-3 came naturally for me as I watched P.J. grow and develop. Now we are expanding our work for children ages 3-5 and he’s right in that sweet spot.”

The Covingtons and godson wear birthday hats
The Covingtons celebrate with their godson P.J. as an infant.

Much of Covington’s work at Ready Ready focuses on finding gaps in services and identifying solutions. She and her team have built an Agency Finder database with contact information and up to 40 data points for Ready Ready’s Integrated Data System. It will allow proven program staff members to seamlessly help families connect with the resources, information, and support they need. A version is also available to the general public by way of the Community Portal.

“My friends are surprised when I say I started with a spreadsheet,” Covington said. “My nonprofit colleagues understand that some areas of Guilford County have more resources than others, and not everyone has the same access. When it comes to navigating all these resources, it can take a lot of strategies to figure out what’s offered and what you need as a parent.”

One thing Covington recommends to all parents is The Basics Guilford. “When P.J. came along, I started talking with his parents, my friends, about The Basics. I taught them what I had learned and encouraged them to utilize them right from the start. It’s been amazing to see P.J. grow and develop.”

Partner Spotlight: Care Management for At-Risk Children

Guilford County’s Health Department has a number of programs designed to support children and their families with healthy development. One of them is Care Management for At-Risk Children, also known as CMARC. That’s a recent name change – you may know them better as Care Coordination for Children (CC4C.)

“CMARC is a team of nurses and social workers who provide comprehensive care management for children from birth up until their 5th birthday,” said Deborah Goddard, CMARC’s supervisor. “A lot of the work we do is in direct correlation to the work Ready Ready does. We help prepare children for school readiness by helping parents identify and address any learning or developmental concerns they may have about their child. In addition to developmental concerns, the children in the CMARC program must have a chronic health condition or be impacted by Social Determinants of Health. Care Managers also help families that are being impacted by challenging levels of toxic stress and trauma.

One of the things that make our program unique is that we have always provided home visits for any CMARC family that desires a home visit. It’s so important to engage families in their own environments as it can often provide valuable insight about the child and family’s needs that might not otherwise be obtained. Goddard said that Guilford County families can participate in the CMARC program at no cost to the family as there are no income guidelines to be in the CMARC program. Children are referred by various sources such as pediatric offices, hospitals, the Department of Social Services (child protective services/ foster care), preschools/child care centers, and other community agencies.

CMARC care managers along with the parent work together to develop a care plan and goals that are tailored to meet the child and family’s needs. CMARC care managers also encourage parents to develop strong relationships with their child’s medical providers and work to link families to various community resources. “While it’s the child that is our primary focus, we try to help the whole family,” Goddard said. “If the parent needs housing or a job resource, or services for domestic violence, mental health, substance abuse, or transportation, we try to help the parent get linked to the organizations that can help them. As many studies have shown, the parent’s needs and behavior often have a direct influence on the child’s overall development and wellbeing.”

With 27 years of community services experience and visiting families in their homes, Goddard said she has an immense appreciation for the parenting journey and each family’s individual path. Goddard also stated she is extremely grateful to lead a team of skilled and professional care managers who are dedicated to serving approximately 650 CMARC families in our community each month.

The Pritzker Children’s Initiative Supports Ready for School, Ready for Life’s Equity Focus

(Greensboro, N.C., May 12, 2022) – Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) has received a $50,000 grant from the Pritzker Children’s Initiative to support the organization’s three-year Equity Action Plan. The implementation of this plan will ensure consistent, equitable practices across the organization.

Ready Ready’s mission is to create a connected, innovative system of care for our community’s youngest children and families while eliminating racial disparities. We know that racial disparity is a driving force in the negative outcomes families experience in health, education, and their overall well-being. Core values at Ready Ready include a commitment to being family-led, equity-driven, and inclusive and responsive to evidence.

“Through the continued partnership with the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, Ready Ready aims to move our racial equity work from design to implementation and become a model for other organizations in North Carolina and the nation to follow,” said Charrise Hart, Ready Ready’s chief executive officer.

Ready Ready’s Equity Action Plan includes strategies to build a culture of belonging and deepening equitable family engagement in Ready Ready as well as the development of a plan and set of practices to engage partners in Ready Ready’s racial equity work. This, combined with strategies to lead ongoing conversations around equity issues with staff, parents, committees, and board, will support the shift of power to families.

“At Ready Ready, we know that to achieve population-level change and eliminate disparities, we must be intentional in our racial equity work,” said Heather Adams, interim vice president of public will building. “Racial disparities persist and result in poor outcomes for far too many families in Guilford County. Implementation of our Equity Action Plan is core to our mission and to the success of this system of care for Guilford County families.”

The Equity Action Plan builds on a previous Pritzker Children’s Initiative grant that enabled Ready Ready to deliver racial equity training to all levels of our organization and develop an Equity Statement.

 Media contact: Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing and Communications

Ready for School, Ready for Life Receives Lincoln Financial Foundation Grant

(Greensboro, N.C., May 12, 2022) – Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) is honored to receive a $25,000 grant from the Lincoln Financial Foundation to promote early literacy and kindergarten readiness for Guilford County children.

The work accomplished through the Lincoln Financial Foundation has never been more important. Kindergarten readiness continues to decline in Guilford County. In 2018-19 40% of all Guilford County kindergarteners met expected language and literacy skills at the beginning of the year. In 2021-22 just 27% of all Guilford County kindergarteners were considered proficient in those skills.

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant gaps in learning, and learning loss will continue to have a dramatic impact,” said Charrise Hart, Ready Ready’s chief executive officer. “The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is more important than ever. Through our partnership with Lincoln Financial Foundation, Ready Ready will continue its efforts to support and equip our youngest learners with the tools and skills necessary to become successful readers by the end of third grade.”

Reading on grade level by third grade is an early indicator for future success such as high school graduation and entering the workforce. Ready Ready’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading includes three components.

·       The Basics Guilford: The Basics is a messaging tool to promote early language and literacy development. Ready Ready staff members have trained more than 600 adults focused on early literacy using the Basics Guilford.

·       Active Reading: Active Reading is a framework to build language and literacy skills with toddlers, preschoolers, and beyond. Since the inception of Active Reading, Ready Ready has trained more than 1,000 adults in Guilford County.

·       Book distribution: Ready Ready has partnered with organizations like BackPack Beginnings to deliver more than 7,000 books to young children in Guilford County.

The Lincoln Financial Foundation has a focus on human services, education, and financial wellness. “Our education focus area supports organizations that help students reach their learning potential and prepare them for critical transitions in their education,” said Nancy Rogers, senior vice president of corporate responsibility, and president of the Lincoln Financial Foundation. “We fund programs that strengthen critical learning skills, improve academic performance, and prepare students for college and careers.”

Ready Ready’s mission is to create a connected, innovative system of care for Guilford County’s youngest children and their families. It is a long-term effort aimed at population-level change. The first phase has focused on infants and toddlers to ensure all Guilford County families receive the support and resources they need for social-emotional, physical, language/communication, cognitive, and learning development. The second phase, which launches this year, focuses on children ages three to five.

Media contact: Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing and Communications

Town Hall meeting explores community needs

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing and Communications

Parent leaders held a Town Hall meeting on April 24 to ask families how our community could offer more support. The Town Hall was facilitated by Guilford Parent Leader Network members who have graduated from Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) Phase II training. They began the process with a survey that ran from December 2021 through March 2022, asking members of the community about their needs as parents.

“The Town Hall meeting was amazing,” said Katina Allen, one of the facilitators. “We heard people voice their opinions, got some great points across, and received great feedback.”

During the virtual Town Hall, the 20 participants met together via Zoom and discussed the survey results. “After talking about the community findings, they decided to focus on affordable housing, affordable child care, and living wages and benefits,” said Yuri Alston, family engagement coordinator at Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready). “Breakout rooms on each topic allowed the attendees to talk about their experiences, brainstorm solutions, and determine next steps.”

One item that grabbed a lot of interest was affordable child care, especially exploring the idea of a pop-up child care center for working parents in a community. “I have an eight-month-old and a middle schooler, and finding high-quality child care that working parents can afford for infant care and after-school care is challenging,” Allen said. “If we had a location for children in our community for teacher workdays or snow days, that would allow parents who have to be at work to know their children are in a safe place.”

By the end of the event, the group decided to explore each topic more completely for the next month and report back on the findings, such as regulations around child care, advocacy for living wages, and ways to connect around affordable housing.

Partner Spotlight: Guilford County Partnership for Children

The Guilford County Partnership for Children (GCPC) mission is to ensure that all Guilford County children ages birth to five are emotionally, intellectually, and physically ready for success in school.

Using public dollars and private donations, GCPC creates new programs and collaborates with existing ones to measurably improve the lives of children while strengthening families. The organization also administers one of the largest NC Pre-K programs in North Carolina, serving more than 2,000 preschoolers every school year.

With Smart Start expansion funding, GCPC is now able to fund the Child Care WAGE$ program in Guilford County.  WAGE$ provides education-based salary supplements to child care educators working with children ages birth to five.

“We are very excited to bring WAGE$ back to Guilford County,” said Ann Vandervliet Stratton, GCPC executive director. “We’re hearing there’s a 50 percent turnover rate in the county’s early education sector due to low wages and benefits. There’s enough pandemic-related hardship for working parents.  We need to support stable, accessible, high-quality child care for our families, children, and the local economy.”

It’s a natural connection. GCPC is also involved in early childhood training, workshops, and other resources for early childhood educators. The Child Care WAGE$ program is designed to increase retention, education, and compensation.

According to the program, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University reports that “substantial investments in training, recruiting, compensating, and retaining a high-quality workforce must be a top priority for society.”  WAGE$ helps attract educated teachers to the field in the first place who might not otherwise choose it due to typically low salaries and benefits.  The additional compensation helps retain those educated teachers, and the program encourages (even mandates) additional education.

“WAGE$ produces measurable results,” Stratton said. “N.C. communities that invest in WAGE$ typically see a 25 percent reduction in the turnover rate.”

To be eligible for WAGE$, educators must work in a licensed child care program, earn less than $17 per hour, work at least six months in the same child care program, and meet certain educational criteria.

Lower turnover rates are important for children in early child care settings. The bond children create with their teachers sets the groundwork for positive learning experiences. When a program has teacher turnover, it is difficult for the center owner and the young children they serve.

Achieving higher levels of education can increase the supplement amount an educator can receive. The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Program offers scholarships to child care professionals who want to earn course credits toward certification or a degree. GCPC is sharing ways early childhood educators can get help with the training and education to increase the supplement they will receive through the program.

WAGE$ is a funding collaboration between GCPC (Smart Start) and the Division of Child Development and Early Education. It is administered by the Child Care Services Association.

Staff profile: Christina Dobson

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing and Communications

“We started out as a very small team. I think I was the fourth person to join,” said Christina Dobson, Director of Data and Performance. “And now Ready Ready is nearly five times larger in terms of staff.”

The growth comes with Ready for School, Ready for Life’s ability to develop the infrastructure needed to create population-level change, according to Dobson. Before joining Ready Ready in 2017, Dobson started volunteering at the YWCA as a mentor to a pregnant teen at the same time she was pregnant with her second child.

“As I continued to volunteer and then work there for 18 years, my own children grew to be teens, and I could see at close range how my children’s experiences and opportunities were different from those of, first, the children of the young mothers I worked with, and later of the moms themselves. It provided a very clear picture of inequity and systemic racism, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work against that at the community level at Ready Ready,” she said.

four adults are smiling at the cameraIn April 2022, Dobson transitioned into her new role as Director of Data and Performance focused on one of Ready Ready’s six priorities – conduct rigorous evaluation and build sustainability for system-building work. She will support staff and community partners in readiness for the evaluation of our initiative, coordinating with The Duke Endowment and Ready Ready’s evaluation consultants.

“I’ll be assuring that our evaluation can happen in a way that is seamless for our staff and partners,” Dobson said. “I’m excited about being a liaison between our evaluation partners and various stakeholders to make sure we have access to the data that will measure outcomes and performance.”

In her spare time, Dobson enjoys reading general fiction but has a more specialized niche these days. “My husband Dave has transitioned from his 24 years as a professor at Guilford College and is now writing full time and involved in game development. I’m the first reader of all his writing. I just finished reading his sixth novel which was a thriller, and some of his other works have been science fiction and fantasy. It’s so great to be involved this way.”

Celebrate Earth Day with your children

We have been celebrating Earth Day on April 22 since 1970, when a U.S. senator from Wisconsin organized a national demonstration to focus awareness on our environment. Since the 1990s, Earth Day has been celebrated by more than 140 countries worldwide.

National Geographic Kids offers some ways children can celebrate Earth Day:

  • Be a waste warrior – learn about recycling
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room
  • Plant a tree.

We also recommend these book lists:

Scholastic Parents: 10 Awesome Earth Day Books for Preschoolers
Top 10 Earth Day Books for Children – Family Education

If your children are into crafts, check out this video featuring five eco-friendly DIYs to protect the planet.