What Inspires You to Work on Behalf of Young Children? - Early Learning Nation

What Inspires You to Work on Behalf of Young Children?

Celebrating the Week of the Young Child, April 6-12

Every week is the Week of the Young Child at Early Learning Nation magazine. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) makes it official with its annual celebration, and we’re taking the opportunity to invite experts and leaders to reaffirm our collective purpose.

“Young children are the best of us: hopeful, idealistic and driven by unconditional love. We owe it to them—and to the world they will inherit and improve—to nurture and protect their developing brains and bodies, as well as their instincts and talents and hearts.”

—Dana Suskind, M.D., founder and co-director, TMW Center for Early Learning and Public Health, and author of Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise. (Read our 2-part interview with Dr. Suskind.)

“What inspires me to work on behalf of our youngest children and families is that we are seeing the promise of our future fulfilled before us and living into our values every day.”

—Anne Mosle, Executive Director, Ascend at the Aspen Institute

“State policy choices matter! The research is clear that state investments in young families and caregivers lead to a lifetime of benefits for children and society. It’s inspiring to work toward policy solutions that will enhance well-being and equity.”

—Cynthia Osborne, Ph.D., Executive Director, Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center (Read about the State Policy Roadmap.)

“I’m inspired by family child care educators! I’m so grateful for their endless commitment as teachers and caregivers. Every time I watch them fostering curiosity, wonder and joy in young children, I am re-energized and ready to redouble efforts to get them the recognition they deserve.”

—Jessica Sager, Cofounder and CEO, All Our Kin (Read about educator-led movement building.)

“I’m inspired to work on behalf of children because securing our children’s future isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s the most crucial investment we can make. Every child deserves an equal opportunity to fulfill their dreams, and it’s our job to dismantle barriers that stand in the way of those dreams and create pathways for their success.”

—Marquita Little NuMan, Executive Director, Partnership for America’s Children (Read “A New Generation of Advocates and Leaders.”)

“The years of early childhood are the most consequential period in all of human development, holding the potential to put children on the path to lifelong success. But if the moral obligation isn’t sufficient rationale, think of the money. Our nation continues to spend an untold fortune on the results of our failure to act in accordance with the science of early development. It’s time we got smarter.”

—Dan Wuori, Strategic Advisor on Early Childhood, Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation, and Founder & President, Early Childhood Policy Solutions

“When I was younger, I knew I wanted to be a super-engaged mom and also have an impactful career, but our public policies and workplace structures were not at all set up for that. I’ve been working for the past several decades to change the status quo—to make it easier for people to parent, work and care, because all of our children, regardless of where they come from or what they look like, should be able to count on safety and nurturance from their parents, early educators and community as a whole.”

—Julie Kashen, Director, Women’s Economic Justice, and Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation (Read “The Child Care Cliff Meant the End of Federal Funds—But Some States Are Stepping In to Fix That.”)

“I’ve been inspired by children’s capacity and life stance, of course, but especially by the very young children with significant needs and disabilities whom I worked with long ago, and whose lives and opportunities have been very uneven. I’m inspired by them and by the millions of children who need significant supports to thrive and grow, the tireless work of their caregivers and educators and the promise of even more social progress to build a better future for the next generation and the world.”

—Nonie Lesaux, Co-Director, Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Read “Finding Your Way to Equity and Access with the Zaentz Navigator.”)

“Being a child advocate is not someone else’s responsibility. It calls on all of us—lawyers, doctors, teachers, environmental specialists, and spiritual leaders—to keep the best interests of children and families in mind in our work, to stand up for improved conditions that will help children and families thrive, to listen and be guided by the work of communities, and to leave the earth in better shape for the next generation.”

—Joan Lombardi, Senior Fellow at the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues at Georgetown University (Read the complete interview.)

“Kids are who inspire me! The urgency to honor childhood, the right to be a child— their full authentic selves, to play, to be loved, to be respected, to be free, that’s what fuels my work.”

—Shantel Meek, Ph.D., founding executive director of the Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University (Read our interview.)

“When I think about what inspires me, the answer is simple: my daughter. Through my own lived experience as a young single mom, and as a Black woman, I quickly came to understand the significance of Dr. King’s quote: ‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,’ and that my daughter’s destiny would be strongly connected to the success of her peers. It’s what’s led me to community organizing, advocacy and public policy work, and on this journey, I’ve met thousands of children and young people who give me hope for our future.”

—Kim Janey, President & CEO of Economic Mobility Pathways (Read more about EMPath.)

“Young children inspire me with their joyful and curious approach to our world. Protecting that genuine wonder drives me to ensure we are doing everything possible to foster their joy through inclusive learning environments across all settings in partnership with educators and families.”

—Michelle Kang, CEO, NAEYC (Read our interview.)

“The hardworking educators who undertake the often-underappreciated tasks of educating, nurturing and loving our children provide tremendous inspiration for my work. Their tireless efforts support families and, in turn, sustain the vitality of our city. I am equally inspired by the families navigating the complexities of child care in hopes of giving their children the strongest possible start in life. Ultimately, I recognize the profound impact of high-quality child care on society. Prioritizing children’s well-being isn’t just morally right; it’s also an investment in creating a brighter future for all of us in New York City.”

—Jocelyn Rodriguez, Ed.L.D., Director, Child Care Quality Innovation, Robin Hood (Read our interview.)

“Every day, young children are on a journey to learn something new about their world, and the early educators who care for them encourage this by creating joyful, affirming, and nurturing spaces. I am inspired to support these early educators because the children in their programs hold so much hope and promise for our future.”

—Erica Phillips, Executive Director, National Association for Family Child Care  (Read “How the American Rescue Plan Act Rescued One Maryland Family Care Program, and What Comes Next.”)

“The foundations of a just and good society that allow persons to reach their full potential are established in the earliest years of human life. I work for young children and their families because I care deeply about building a society where human dignity is respected and individuals have every opportunity to flourish.

​—Joe Waters, Co-Founder and CEO, Capita (Read “7 Reasons to Be Encouraged about the Planet Our Children Are Inheriting.”)

“I am inspired in my work by the joy and creativity of young children as they explore the world, and the brilliance and thoughtfulness of the teachers and caregivers who help shape the environments in which they learn.”

​—Diana Mendley Rauner, Ph.D., President, Start Early (Read “For Children and the Climate, the Future Is Now.”)

“As Too Small to Fail celebrates its 10th anniversary promoting early brain and language development, I continue to learn and feel inspired by the children and families that I meet through our work in communities across the country. I’m particularly inspired by the parents and caregivers who give so much of themselves to provide their children with the best start possible.”

​—Patti Miller CEO, Too Small to Fail, Clinton Foundation (Read about “A Healthy Childhood in a Changing Climate.”)

“As a child, I dreamt of making changes to the systems that impacted me, driven by a desire for fairness and equity. Now, as a mother, my greatest sense of purpose and joy comes from advocating for children’s rights and well-being. Navigating a fulfilling career alongside the challenges of rising child care costs has made me acutely aware of the obstacles many families face. As a deeply devoted mom, I am driven to create a better world for my children and all young ones, where they can thrive and reach their full potential.”

—Allison Gilbreath, MSW, Senior Policy and Programs Director, Voices for Virginia’s Children (Stay tuned for our story on kinship care in Virginia.)

“There is something profound about a young child’s joy, curiosity and unlimited potential that compels me to build a world that keeps those intact for as long as possible.”

—Kai-ama Hamer, MA, Director, ParentCorps (Read “You’re the Expert on Your Child.”)

Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.

Illustrator Art Hondros received wrist-slappings for his cartooning activity in both high school and the US Navy. His sequential features have appeared in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine and Packingtown Review in Chicago. He produced a graphic novel based on a lost 1920s silent film in 2018. He is a member of the collective known as DC Conspiracy that publishes the free comics newspaper, Magic Bullet.

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