Partner Spotlight: Guilford Child Development

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

Guilford Child Development is a nonprofit organization that provides educational and social services to help young children and families reach their full potential and achieve future success.

“Guilford Child Development is one of the best kept secrets,” says CEO Maria Layne-Stevens. “We have our own little ecosystem in a sense, where we’re focusing on children prenatally, and pregnant moms, and we have ability to support our families from conception through children entering kindergarten. Founded in 1967, Guilford Child Development (GCD) provides services to more than 6,000 children and families a year. The organization’s six programs are Head Start/Early Start, Regional Childcare Resources & Referral, Catering for Kids, Nurse-Family Partnership, Learning Together Family Literacy Program and the Family Success Center.

The organization’s efforts to empower families also come with making parents and caregivers aware of their role and responsibility to ensure that the program is being implemented with fidelity. In the Head Start Policy Council for example, families play a pivotal role in being advocates for themselves and their families, but also in providing input into the program’s design and management, ultimately contributing to the success of the program.

The organization creates opportunities to encourage parents and caregivers to foster their own development, build their advocacy skills, and continue their education while supporting their children’s development and learning. 

With more than 350 employees, Guilford Child Development is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Guilford County.

“Engaging parents in training designed to promote personal development and build soft skills improves their readiness for gainful employment, empowering parents to move their family out of poverty. This is a critical, life-changing element of the services we provide,” Layne-Stevens says. “We’ve been fortunate to partner with incredible local organizations to carry out our mission in helping children and families reach their full potential.”

Layne-Stevens points to the commitment the organization made to address early childhood teacher compensation. “We made a commitment to our teachers to address teacher pay, a significant challenge in the early childhood services industry. We got creative, cut costs, and addressed teacher compensation. While this is one step forward in our journey, we are demonstrating to our staff and the community the importance of early childhood education and our teachers who are making such a difference in the lives of young children.”

Guilford Child Development was one of Ready Ready’s first partners, heavily involved in the 100-day challenges that helped coalesce the community effort into the growing nonprofit organization we are today.

Guilford Parent Leader Network

Finding community, leading change

Amber Robinson of the Guilford Parent Leader Network remembers when it started with focus groups in Guilford County. “Back in 2014, I was part of Photo Voice, which gave parents digital cameras to capture our every day lives. We answered questions with photos about our every day lives,” Robinson remembers. “It was a precursor to the Family Action Learning Teams which became part of the national Parent Leader Network.” An original member, Robinson remains active in the group which coalesced into its present form as Ready for School, Ready for Life became a nonprofit organization.

“The Parent Leader Network is a group of individuals who come together to discuss the needs of families and the community and how best to serve our children,” says Sanaa Sharrieff, who joined the network two years ago when her children were in preschool. Now they are in first grade, and Sharrieff says the connections she has made with other parents and caregivers in the community have been invaluable.

The Guilford Parent Leader Network was established as a decision-making body of Ready for School, Ready for Life. The goal of the group is to ensure that family voice is brought into every key decision as we work together to build an innovative, connected early childhood system in Guilford County.

“Having our voices heard as parents, having our voices heard as members of the community and learning how to navigate the space that we’re in right now while still being effective parents plus all the resources have been phenomenal,” Sharrieff said. 

Monthly meetings bring the group together — in-person before the pandemic, and virtually right now. During the meetings, the group discusses a topic, but there’s always room to provide each other with support or newly-discovered resources that can help each parent and caregiver succeed.

“It’s so important to create a support network in the community and help people see that they’re actually leaders and change agents,” Robinson said. The larger national network involved has offered additional resources such as trips to Chicago, and this year, a conference made virtual by COVID-19.

“When we did the (national) Parent Leader Network Summit, we had 20 minutes of guided breathing and meditation. It was an affirmation that we are more than parents, we are individuals who contribute to the planet and need this kind of self-care,” Sharrieff says. “Then we went into the let’s put on our superhero capes and set these goals and figure out together how we’re going to affect change in society. It’s just really empowering.”

Sharrieff also says a group chat allows the members to stay in touch informally and share resources between meetings. “We’re here for each other. We’re learning ways to be great leaders, listeners, and supporters. I’m really grateful to be connected to this network.”

If you’d like to know more about the Guilford Parent Leader Network, which typically meets on the third Monday from 7-8:30 p.m. each month, please email Heather Adams, Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. The group is open to new members with children from birth to age eight, who are interested in serving as decision-makers, consultants, and ambassadors for Ready Ready’s work in Guilford County.

November: CEO Message

Dear Ready Ready Friend,

Governor Roy Cooper has designated November as Family Engagement Month in North Carolina. It couldn’t come at a better time.

While November traditionally brings a focus on family and gratitude, this year may include some extra stress. An important presidential election in a country deeply divided by politics happened this week. A surge in COVID-19 numbers in Guilford County has our school system examining how and when to return students to the classroom this month. Combine all that with a slightly higher unemployment rate in September linked to food insecurity and housing instability, and you may wonder how to make Thanksgiving plans this month. If you are able to invite your family members to gather in a socially distant way at the table during these times, navigating the conversation may be an added stressor.

That’s why we urge you to celebrate Family Engagement Month with us at Ready Ready. In this issue of our newsletter, we will share resources that can help you and your family. These resources include simple ideas that increase early childhood development, teach skills that help with math and literacy, and offer ways to find parenting resources, childcare, and emphasize the importance of having fun with your family. 

Since we’re talking about November, did you know that practicing gratitude can help you and your children build resilience? Scientists who are studying this are careful to note that practicing gratitude does not minimize hardships we are experiencing, but it can help you manage your reactions to them. This idea links back to one of our Guilford Basics: Maximize love, manage stress.

In this newsletter, we are turning our partner spotlight on Guilford Child Development, one of our partner organizations. Family engagement is one facet of this nonprofit’s mission to provide educational and social services to help young children and families reach their full potential and achieve future success.

We are proud to work with Guilford Child Development and more than 100 other nonprofits to assist Guilford County children, parents and caregivers, and families. We are grateful to all who take on this important work and welcome those who want to join us at the table.

Charrise Hart