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: Kellen Foundation

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing and Communications

The mission of the Kellin Foundation is to strengthen resilience for children, families, adults, and communities through trauma-informed behavioral health services focused on prevention, treatment, and healing.

“We prevent, treat, and heal,” said Dr. Kelly Graves, Kellin Foundation’s executive director, and co-founder. “We do this primarily two ways – one is behavioral health services including mental health and substance abuse, and the second strategy is community and systems transformation.”

Focused on advocacy and outreach, clinical and peer support services, and building resilient communities, the organization serves about 10,000 people a year. The Kellin Foundation is one of only two nationally recognized community behavioral health centers in North Carolina with expertise and focus on trauma and resiliency as a partner with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Duke University is the other center.

“Using that trauma-informed lens is critical because our behavioral health, our physical health, and our health, in general, is strongly connected to stress and adversity,” Graves said. “It’s understanding and realizing the impact that trauma has, recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress has on our bodies and integrating what we know about these impacts into our practices, policies, and treatment.”

The organization created the Child Response Initiative (CRI), which helps children impacted by violence and stress and their families. CRI has four objectives: early intervention, information and education, community connection and referral, and building relationships. It provides community-based coordinated services delivered within a trauma-informed framework, leveraging the Guilford County Trauma Provider Network, a group of about 30 partners and organizations that work together to support safety and wellness among children and families.

Graves explained that traumatic stress can be experienced through an adverse childhood experience and systemic issues like discrimination and racism. She says the COVID-19 pandemic has created a broad awakening that stress impacts every aspect of our life, including mental health.

“The pandemic has opened the door to deeper conversation around how stress impacts us and the importance of monitoring and addressing that stress,” Graves said.

In addition to her work at the Kellin Foundation, Graves has been involved in Ready for School, Ready for Life’s system-building work, serving on various focus groups, workgroups, and committees throughout the years. She recently participated in the ages 3-5 social-emotional development workgroup for Phase II of Ready Ready’s work.

“What I’m excited to see in Ready Ready and in groups across the community is the emphasis given to the importance of social-emotional development and mental health as critical to helping children get ready for kindergarten, as well as the importance of taking a multi-generational approach to the work,” Graves said.

Graves and her team at the Kellin Foundation believe that behavioral health is strongly connected to adversity and trauma; everyone deserves to live in a home and in a community that is safe and free of trauma; that people, families, and communities are resilient and can thrive despite adversity; and that community organizations and systems play a key role in addressing adversity and building resiliency using a trauma-informed framework.

We work with more than 100 community organizations. You can see the extensive list on our website. If you’re one of our partners and would like to be featured, please contact Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications.

Staff profile: Megan LeFaivre

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing and Communications

When the idea that became Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) was just starting to spark in Guilford County, Literacy Coordinator Megan LeFaivre was there.

Photo of Megan LeFaivre“I served as a volunteer on the very first steering committee, through the Early Literacy Design Team, and the 100-day challenge,” LeFaivre said. “At the time, I was the community vice president of the Junior League, and it made sense to join the committee. Then I just fell in love with the work and kept showing up.”

LeFaivre spent many years volunteering on Ready Ready committees and participating in workgroups. “When the Literacy Coordinator position became available in 2021, I knew it would be my dream job.” As Literacy Coordinator, she uses her background as a kindergarten through fifth-grade reading specialist to encourage parents and caregivers in the community to use The Basics Guilford.

“As a teacher, I saw how hard children needed to fight to catch up if they came to kindergarten unprepared,” LeFaivre said. “Using this social moment to change that problem is crucial to our community’s success.”

LeFaivre has trained hundreds of interested people and organizations in the Basics, five powerful science-based concepts anyone can use to foster children’s healthy development – starting with infants.

“When we consider that 80 percent of a child’s brain develops before age three, it’s important to have these intentional conversations with children,” LeFaivre said. “It’s not just the child in your house. It’s the children you interact with daily in your neighborhood, a co-worker’s child, or another family member. In any conversation you have with a child you can do these five easy, basic things to help their brains develop.”

When she’s not teaching the Basics, distributing books through community partners, or helping to establish Basics-themed areas for parents in the community, you’re likely to find a book in LeFaivre’s hands or headphones. “I’m especially interested in historical fiction, mainly World War I and II-era stories.”

LeFaivre also enjoys cooking — all kinds of dishes. “That’s partly because the person who cooks doesn’t have to clean in my house,” she admits. “And that works in my favor.”

11 Parent Leaders graduate from COFI Phase 2 training

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

Eleven parent leaders have graduated from Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) Phase 2 training. The COFI model makes positive changes in parents’ lives by using their strengths and commitment to their children and their neighborhoods. These Guilford Parent Leader Network (GPLN) members first engaged with the program through COFI Phase 1 last fall.

The COFI model focuses on self, family, community, and policy and systems in the various training levels. Phase 1 focuses on creating supportive parent teams, setting goals, and establishing plans. In Phase 2, the training focuses on creating community-based agendas that start with common concerns parents raise.

“COFI presents a platform for parent leaders to fulfill their desired roles in their respective communities,” said Harrison Spencer, a GPLN member who recently graduated from the COFI Phase 2 training. “In addition, COFI offers key training, resources, services, and compensation for participants and members that may be otherwise overlooked or not offered by other organizations. COFI encourages parents to become involved, engaged, and active leaders.”

COFI uses a “train the trainers” approach to delivering its model to communities like Guilford County. In April, three parent leaders were trained on the Phase 2 model and led the five training sessions for the 11 new graduates over the summer.

“As a recent social work graduate, one of the primary issues I had with the structure was the top-down and lack of autonomy that were/are rampant in our practice, support, and approaches,” Spencer said. “This is where COFI is unique in its approach and geared towards revealing some insight or new perspectives to others.”

According to its website, the COFI way has trained more than 4,724 parents in 44 communities like Guilford County. “About 50 percent of Phase 1 participants go on to Phase 2 within about six months, according to COFI,” said Heather Adams, Ready Ready’s Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. “In November, we had 15 parent leaders graduate from COFI Phase 1, so 93 percent of our graduates have now gone through Phase 2. These parents will be the change they want to see in their communities.”

Adams says additional COFI Phase 1 sessions are in the works. Families with children involved in Early Head Start and Head Start through Guilford Child Development will be trained this fall. Plans are underway for families with children at Falkener Elementary to be the next cohort, and a High Point-focused series will be held in spring 2022.  “This training creates a powerful space for connection,” she said.

Spencer says he would recommend COFI to other parents and caregivers in Guilford County. “COFI not only creates a platform for others but a possibility for additional support and friends that could be considered family and commonalities from the group and organizational bonding.

For more information about the Guilford Parent Leader Network, please contact Heather Adams, Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. Meetings are held on the third Monday of the month from 7-8:30 p.m. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these meetings are being held via Zoom.

Partner Spotlight: YWCA High Point

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

One hundred and one years ago, the YWCA High Point was formed. The organization is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.

Today, the YWCA has seven core areas of programming: social justice and advocacy, women’s resource center, youth services, aquatics and wellness, teaching kitchen, Latino family center, and adolescent parenting.

Executive Director Heidi Majors has been with YWCA High Point almost 20 years, and said a big part of the focus is maternal health and ensuring that infants and toddlers in the greater High Point area are meeting the milestones and being prepared for school at age five.

“Our maternal health programs are so important,” Majors said. “In June 2020, YWCA began using the Parents As Teachers model, with case managers to work with the parents. YWCA High Point is expanding to have 5 Parent Educators to serve more parents.  One of these case managers works with adolescent parents under the age of 19. Through home visits and group education sessions, we focus on planning for their families, as well as making sure they have prenatal care to help with healthy birth outcomes.”

The Adolescent Parenting Program works to make a difference in the lives of young school-age mothers and fathers who are pregnant or parenting.  In addition to home visits and group education, the program offers mentors, school support sessions, college tours, and field trips.

Majors said Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) supported many of the YWCA’s adolescent parents during the pandemic. “That was an instrumental piece of how we lift up our high-risk communities and make sure they had what they needed. Whether that was food, diapers, or other essential items, we were able to do that thanks to Ready Ready and The Duke Endowment.”

YWCA High Point also supports families with infants and toddlers through Healthy Beginnings. It’s a personalized program for minority women and their children. Healthy Beginnings seeks to help young women have healthy pregnancies and healthy children and continue a healthy lifestyle between pregnancies.

Last year YWCA High Point served more than 1,000 parents with its Baby Basics closet – providing diapers, formula, clothing, and larger items like cribs and pack-n-play equipment. “We work very closely with agencies across Guilford County and the North Carolina Diaper Bank to ensure our infants and toddlers have this support. A parent won’t have to keep their child home from daycare because they don’t have diapers, for example, and they can go to work. It’s about lifting up the whole support system.”

Majors said the YWCA’s focus on social justice is designed to bring real change to the fight for gender equality and racial justice. In the time since the murder of George Floyd last summer, Majors is encouraged to see the conversation continue about systemic racism, racial equity, and social justice.

“In 2020, there has been an opportunity for people to be open, listen, and learn to educate themselves. Not everyone is receptive to that message, but through collaborations and partnerships, we’re looking at more systemic change,” Majors said. “Our Community Builders program, which we started in 2018, has trained individuals using the groundwater approach from the Racial Equity Institute. We’re fighting for racial equity because there are so many disparities within our communities. We’re addressing these disparities through a number of programs, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

To learn more about YWCA High Point, visit their website.

NC workforce registry system

NC workforce registry system survey

North Carolina (NC) is one of only nine states that currently does not have an EC/SA workforce registry system.  Planning for this registry is very important as it will position the State to bring individual and aggregated real-time data about early childhood and school age practitioners’ education, credentials, work locations and demographics into one place. An EC/SA Workforce Registry is an information system that:

  • Captures real time data about early childhood and out of school time (OST) practitioners in a variety of roles and settings.
  • Recognizes and honors professional achievements of the early childhood and school age workforce.
  • Promotes individual professional growth and development.
  • Is based on State career-level systems that provide a framework for professional development.

Having one integrated system where all early childhood workforce data can be housed will decrease the burden and frustration that educators and programs face having to input data in different places/systems. Because NC is often recognized as a leader in early childhood, the lack of a statewide integrated workforce registry is a long-standing need.  Once complete, not only will the data prove important to the state, but it will allow NC to participate in the national EC/SA workforce data pull that informs federal policy on young children. Please consider taking this survey and sharing your thoughts with us as well as share this with other early childhood and school age colleagues. The survey will remain open until June 11th at 5:00 p.m. EST.

There are two surveys available to take:

  1. An Administrator/Educator survey specific to early care and education/school-age program directors, center-based program staff, and family child care-based staff
  2. A General Stakeholder survey targeting the larger early childhood education and care system and its stakeholders (such as Higher Education, CCR&Rs, Training/Technical Assistance providers, etc.)

Please be sure to set your browser to Google Chrome or Firefox to access these surveys. You will need to copy and paste the link into your browser due to privacy/security protocols.  Please copy the link to the survey that best represents your professional position.

The Administrator/Educator survey is here: https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/6341262/NCECSARegistryPrograms

The General Stakeholder survey is here: https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/6343230/NCECSARegistryGeneral

Partner Spotlight: BackPack Beginnings

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

A news story shown on Washington D.C. television about a teacher in Texas who was slipping food into children’s backpacks stuck with Parker White as she moved back to Greensboro and started raising her family.

“I couldn’t get it out of my head,” White, the executive director of Backpack Beginnings, said. “So I called the school system and asked if there was a hunger issue here. They said yes, and explained how some groups were helping, but more was always needed. I figured I could help one school. One led to two, and two led to three, and here we are.”

Now helping 70 schools in Guilford County, Backpack Beginnings provides food, comfort, and clothing directly to children in need. “We started in schools, but we quickly realized there are basic needs all over the county. We wanted to meet families where they already are, so we started talking with pediatricians’ offices, nonprofits, and service agencies so that we can partner with them.”

That’s how White connected with Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) a few years ago. Initially, the topic was diapers, a huge need for families with babies and toddlers. “With Ready Ready’s help, we were able to establish a partnership with the North Carolina Diaper Bank,” White said. “Now we are giving out tens of thousands of diapers and anticipate that continuing to grow.”

More recently, Backpack Beginnings and Ready Ready have partnered in a program called Book Beginnings. This program places shelves filled with new and gently used books in strategic locations across Guilford County, distributing thousands of free books to encourage a love of reading. “The goals of the program include book ownership and book abundance,” White said.

“During the pandemic, we’ve held drive-through events and our volunteers come back with stories about how children are so excited to have these books that they start screaming and clapping. And it’s not one book per child. We want them to have a love of reading and start their own little library at home,” she said.

“Thanks to a new grant from Duke Energy Foundation, we will purchase 6,500 new books for Guilford County children. Working with Backpack Beginning, we are focused on early literacy,” said Heather Adams, Ready Ready’s director of family engagement and literacy initiatives. “Research shows that children raised in a home with books positively impacts their readiness for school and future success in life.”

“We gave out 12,000 books last fiscal year, and we hope to double that this year,” White said. “We are a better organization for our collaboration with Ready Ready and other organizations. Together we are seeing the needs in our community and providing the resources and services that help our families.”

 

Early literacy efforts recognized with grant

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

We are excited to share that a grant from the Duke Energy Foundation has recognized how Ready Ready encourages literacy for Guilford County’s youngest children. We are one of 51 organizations that received grants totaling $1 million to address pandemic learning loss in North Carolina.

“Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) thanks Duke Energy Foundation for its generous support of our early literacy programs, designed to meet the greatest educational needs of young children during the pandemic,” said CEO Charrise Hart. “This funding will allow us to prepare Guilford County toddlers and preschoolers for kindergarten through the implementation of pre-literacy programming and active reading strategy training sessions.”