We have some big news from the Collaboration for Early Childhood to share with you today.
After over five years of service to community partners, caregivers, and parents, Jennifer Little, Manager of Family Engagement, will be moving on from the Collaboration for Early Childhood.
Jennifer joined the Collaboration in January, 2017 as the organization’s very first Family Engagement Coordinator, then called the Parenting Resource Program (PRP) Coordinator. She was brought on to begin rolling out the work outlined in the Parenting Resource Program Strategic Framework that was put forth in 2016. Among the rich information that the Collaboration gathered from parents during that process was parents’ desire for more socialization opportunities, more parent education programs, and for someone to coordinate parenting resources.
Jennifer began putting the framework into action by strengthening a form of community connection that the Collaboration had not yet fully-leveraged: social media and digital communications. From those early years, and through a global pandemic, the PRP online calendar of family friendly events and monthly newsletter, in tandem with the Collaboration’s social media presence, has become more important, impactful, and accessible than ever.
Working side by side with the Parenting Resource Program Committee, the Home Visiting Task Force, and community partners, Jennifer always approached her work with the goal to connect parents to existing community resources and to strengthen systems of support. She focused on building sustainable programming that bridged gaps, strengthened partner capacity, and that meet parents and caregivers where they are at.
In 2017, Jennifer connected with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) to launch the first Parent Leadership Training. In these initial trainings, participants teamed up to become part of a parent action team that conducted peer-to-peer outreach in the community around early learning resources. That is how our Community Ambassadors, as well as the Parent Group, Families First | La Familia Primero, came to be! Now, Parent Leadership Training is facilitated by parents right here in our community, and Families First | La Familia is an active group that hosts family friendly gatherings and workshops geared toward parents and caregivers.
In order to build partner capacity, in 2018, Chicago Parent Program was also identified as a strong fit for the Collaboration to offer to parents who were interested in something more comprehensive than a single workshop. The Chicago Parent Program is a parent education program focused on enhancing parenting behaviors, such as positive discipline techniques, learning age-appropriate child development skills and promoting positive play and interaction between parents and children. To-date there are 11 community partners trained as group leaders in the Chicago Parent Program and the 12-week series is offered multiple times throughout the year.
With the PRP committee and community partners, Jennifer coordinated a robust calendar of monthly parent workshops on a variety of topics. The train-the-trainer model is also used for popular parenting topics, like potty training, that are covered in these parent workshops. In this way, community partners can learn new topics and help facilitate workshops that are offered to parents and caregivers multiple times per program year.
Jennifer and Azucena take a selfie before filming for the Parent Engagement for Early Childhood Collaborations resource collection, a project led by Illinois Action for Children, summer 2020.
Jennifer at the Mother’s Day Baby Bundle Giveaway event at West Cook YMCA, spring, 2021.
Jennifer and community partners at the very first Early Childhood Resource Fair in 2017.
In 2017 and 2018, Jennifer, with the Parenting Resource Program Committee, also launched the annual Early Childhood Resource Fair and Child Care Meet and Greet, events that helped families connect with early learning programs and resources, and which Jennifer successfully pivoted to an online format during the pandemic.
And, in the midst of the global pandemic, the PRP committee launched Ready4K, a free, research-based text messaging program that sparks everyday learning moments without relying on the internet to parents in our community. Each week, parents receive age-appropriate facts, and easy tips and opportunities for growth to boost their child’s learning by building on existing family routines. Messages are offered in multiple languages and go straight to the subscriber’s mobile device.
Through all this engagement with families, Jennifer always reminded families that they are their child’s first and most important teacher, but they don’t have to do it alone. Jennifer served as the convener for the Home Visiting Task Force, working with the community’s home visiting programs and the Village’s Public Health Nurse, to further streamline referral processes, and think of innovative ways to increase awareness about this important community support. Through these conversations, the Collaboration’s “Baby Bundle” was “born,” and in 2021 was expanded through a grant from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation. By welcoming new and expectant parents with a tote bag filled with goodies and resources, the Collaboration has been able to ensure that we are connecting parents to things they may benefit from for their child from day one.
Today, thanks to Jennifer’s dedicated work, the Collaboration’s Family Engagement Program is a vibrant and multifaceted suite of programming, resources, and committed partnerships that meet parents and caregivers where they are at and empower them to be their child’s first and most important teacher!
All are welcome to share messages with Jennifer here! Please share the link with others who have worked with Jennifer that may also like to say something.
Jennifer and community partners doing community outreach.
Jennifer and Shannon!
We have more news!
Emily Norman, formerly our Early Learning Coordinator, will begin a new chapter in her career at the end of this month. Emily stepped down from her position as Early Learning Coordinator earlier this month to take a well-deserved break and to spend time with her family. Since that time, she has remained a part of our team as a consultant to continue to screen families for Free Preschool eligibility.
Emily’s work style embodies what the Collaboration is all about. She convenes, listens, and then she responds. Whether she was convening the Directors’ Roundtable, meeting with her colleagues, or speaking with families about home visiting, free preschool, or developmental services, Emily created trusted spaces for ideas and feelings to be shared.
Emily joined the Collaboration in April 2021 as the Collaboration’s first Intake Coordinator, serving as the warm, friendly person that people spoke to when they called the Collaboration with a question. One of her first projects was tackling the updates to the Collaboration’s Early Childhood Resource Directory. From there, she was on her way. Soon, Emily’s role expanded to Early Learning Coordinator where she served as the main point person to local early childhood educators and directors. She managed the Early Learning Newsletter and facilitated the Directors’ Roundtable meetings and Publicly Funded Preschool Committee meetings.
Through convening and listening, Emily heard that many directors were hungry for more clarity on how to correctly adhere to the COVID-19 safety guidelines at their early childhood programs. And they had questions. How had the pandemic affected children’s speech development with everyone wearing masks all day in the presence of young children? Emily responded.
Speech and Language Pathologist Erica Norman (no relation to Emily Norman!) was invited to the Directors’ Roundtable to present the current research on this topic, milestones to watch for, as well as tricks and tips to support and promote communication. She also was instrumental in creating a space for Directors to get their COVID-19 questions answered directly in an ongoing weekly ZOOM Q&A meeting with Dr. Chapple-McGruder, Director of the Village of Oak Park’s Public Health Department. Thanks to Emily and the Program Team, who listened and relayed the needs of our community’s early childhood program directors, we have a plan for ARPA funding that strives to meet those needs.
Emily connected the dots and proactively responded to things she saw emerging in the local early childhood community. For example, Emily noticed a pattern of families calling in experiencing unexpected transitions from their early learning program and scrambling to find a new one for their child. In response, the Collaboration’s Program Team launched a workshop for parents and a workshop for providers, both focusing on leveraging existing community resources to mitigate behavioral issues and promote transparent communication between parents and providers to prevent future preschool expulsions.
The Collaboration is about connecting people to the resources that are available within our community and empowering people to leverage those resources to care for children the best that they can. That’s what Emily did every day.
To give you an idea of how much impact Emily has had throughout our early childhood community: just this program year, she has connected with over 233 families and screened more than 100 families for eligibility to free preschool programs! Each of those people interacted with Emily and each of those people, thanks to Emily, were made aware of the many other resources available in the community that they might benefit from.
Emily, thank you for everything you’ve done to support our early childhood community and we are excited to see the continued impact you’ll have in the next chapter of your career!
All are welcome to share messages with Emily here! Please share the link with others who have worked with Emily that may also like to say something.