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.

A vision ‘as breathtaking and groundbreaking as public school’ for early childhood

Guilford County was in the spotlight Wednesday at a gathering of early childhood funders, advocates, policymakers, and researchers asking how to create a universal system of care for young children.

One of Guilford’s state House members, Ashton Clemmons, a Democrat, shared numbers she said she takes personally about the reach of early care and education programs in North Carolina:

  • The state reaches about half of 4-year-olds eligible for NC Pre-K.
  • When it comes to Head Start, a national program for low-income preschoolers, the state reaches 19% of eligible children.
  • Six percent of children eligible for Early Head Start, the program’s counterpart for infants and toddlers, are being served in the state.

“Our state’s better than that — or we should be,” Clemmons said.

Hosted at Duke University, the gathering, “Building a Universal System for Families with Young Children in North Carolina,” was organized by the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and by The Hunt Institute.

Other data points, including declining kindergarten-entry literacy skills, racial disparities in infant mortality, and low pay for early childhood teachers, were held out at the event as unacceptable realities for young children and families.

Ariel Ford, director of the Division for Child Development and Early Education; Amy Cubbage, president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children; Kelly Kimple, senior medical director for health promotion in the Division of Public Health; and Yvonne Copeland, director of the Division of Child and Family Well-Being, discuss early childhood governance. Liz Bell/EducationNC

“We must make people uncomfortable with the data,” Amy Cubbage, president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, said during one panel. “We should not be sleeping well.”

Discussion also included common points on the importance of the earliest years: for children’s brain development, school success, families’ well-being and workforce participation, and the state’s economic growth.

‘A connected, innovative system of care’ in Guilford

“Yes, we want to invest in job training and workforce development … we want to invest in schooling and preschool programs, but the more we can invest in the early years — in supporting women, children, and families prenatally up to age 3, and then shifting that focus to ages 3 to 8 — it’s going to yield a higher return,” said Charrise Hart, the CEO of Ready for School, Ready for Life, a Guilford County nonprofit aiming to create a network of high-quality services for all young children and their families.

These challenges and opportunities motivated the launch of that group back in 2014, when community leaders acknowledged that change was needed. The nonprofit serves as a backbone organization for the Get Ready Guilford Initiative. The initiative’s aim is population-level progress, focused on two main outcomes: literacy development and social-emotional competence. The group breaks its work into two phases: prenatal to 3, and 3 to 8.

“We may not have the finance backing … that we see in Charlotte,” Hart said. “We may not have the RTP approach that we see in Raleigh (and) Durham. But we’re a strong community, and we do value our earliest and youngest learners, and so that’s why we are investing in them.”

Leaders of Get Ready Guilford explain their journey to early childhood funders, advocates, and leaders. Liz Bell/EducationNC

With substantial philanthropic investments, including tens of millions from Blue Meridian and the Duke Endowment, the group plans to reach its vision over the next decade — not by creating another program, but by connecting the dots for families with young children. The goal, as the group’s website says, is “to build a connected, innovative system of care.”

Edward Kitchen, board co-chair of the nonprofit, shared the work’s origin story Wednesday, starting with experiences he had as city manager of Greensboro. Children were living in poor housing conditions, unable to reach services without transportation, and following their older siblings’ involvement in the juvenile court system.

When it came to education, Kitchen said, he saw persistent challenges. He was involved with a philanthropic effort to raise math scores in local high-needs high schools that didn’t make much of a difference.

“When we asked the provost of UNC-Greensboro, who was the evaluator of the effort, ‘Why is this?’ his response was almost immediate. He said, ‘You started way too late. You’ve got to start early.'”

The group’s collective of services includes three core evidence-based programs: Family Connects International, Healthy Steps, and Nurse-Family Partnership — pre-existing programs whose services the initiative works to expand and integrate in a way that better supports families.

The group’s other priorities include creating a navigation system for parents to be connected with all types of resources, promoting a culture of quality and improvement, conducting rigorous evaluation, and building public will.

A recent win: The group has partnered 16 OB-GYN offices so that families will be assigned a guide through the prenatal period and after birth to connect them with whatever services they need.

Defining and measuring the initiative’s impact, or its “it,” is a challenge, said Kenneth Dodge, a Sanford professor and the founding and past director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, as well as the founder of Family Connects International.

“This is so big and so broad, in my mind the ‘it’ is a new idea — it is universal primary care for families,” Dodge said. The project has two main parts, he said: “reaching every family and understanding what they need, and providing resources to address those needs.”

“This vision is as breathtaking and groundbreaking as public school universally was 200 years ago for children age 7 to 16, but for children 0 to 8,” Dodge said. “Think about it in that kind of magnitude.”

‘Fundamental to our economic sustainability and growth’

In Guilford County and across the state, leaders highlighted the importance of engaging the business community to become advocates and funders in expanding opportunities for children and families.

Business leaders were at the table in Guilford’s initiative from the beginning, said Ryan Blackledge, director of government affairs at Cone Health and chair of Ready for School, Ready for Life’s legislative action subcommittee.

“That’s really where this started, and it comes from a standpoint of recognizing that everything that we do has an impact on other parts of our lives,” Blackledge said. “If all we’re focusing on is early childhood education and not also focusing on being ready for school and then readiness for high school and readiness for work, and then when you’re working, you need a place for your kids to go, and really understanding how all of this allows a community o be successful together — that’s what I think really contributed to the buy-in with the business community.”

Clemmons echoed a need for broadening the voices advocating for early childhood change, including business leaders and policymakers on both sides of the aisle.

“I think it is very important that we start talking about early childhood as fundamental to our economic sustainability and growth,” she said. “We know the moral imperative of providing for our children, we know the stories, but all of us talking to each other about those things is not getting us where we need to be.”

Clemmons asked the crowd: “If you knew what you know now… would we start the public education system at 5? If we knew all the things we now know, would we start a public good of building who we’re going to be as a state at 5? Or would we be doing something different?”

This article first appeared on EducationNC and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Cemala Foundation funds a collaboration of four organizations to support maternal health and reduce infant mortality in Guilford County

Local barbers and stylists trained as community health ambassadors to hold maternal health conversations and host educational opportunities for moms-to-be

GREENSBORO, NC, April 12, 2022 — The American Heart Association, Every Baby Guilford, March of Dimes, and Ready for School Ready for Life are proud to be co-recipients of a one-year $67,000 grant from the Cemala Foundation focused on cardiovascular health and maternal health to reduce infant mortality in Guilford County. In response to the high rates of infant mortality in Guilford County, Trusted Spaces, Healthy Babies is a collaboration between these four organizations to form an innovative approach that aims to address the drivers of infant mortality while empowering mothers of Color in trusted community spaces. Programs such as Trusted Spaces, Healthy Babies support mothers and contribute to raising healthy, smart babies.

“Black women face a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, having a stroke, and complications during or immediately after pregnancy.  In fact, Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. Together, Trusted Spaces, Healthy Babies can help change these statistics,” said Kent Wallace-Meggs, Executive Director for the American Heart Association in the Triad.

Local barbers and stylists recently attended a maternal health training for their participation in the Trusted Spaces, Healthy Babies initiative. The four organizations presented information during this peer-to-peer educational training. A community kick-off event will be announced later this Spring.

In 2019, the American Heart Association began Trusted Spaces, working with beauty salons and barbershops across the Triad to focus on hypertension and health conversations with the Hair, Heart & Health initiative.

young child getting a hair cutNow, Trusted Spaces, Healthy Babies will be implemented across Guilford County in up to 13 barbershops and beauty salons. The initiative includes an outreach campaign with health messages for moms-to-be delivered through the trusted voices of barbers and stylists. Health and parenting resources will be introduced to the participating salons and barbershops for mothers to access, including blood pressure monitors, scales, book nooks, and more.

The American Heart Association will be managing the Trusted Spaces, Healthy Babies initiative with the salons and barbershops and focusing on hypertension and nutrition. The March of Dimes will provide curricula and training support on preconception health tips and links to resources. Ready for School Ready for Life will provide children’s books for shops to share with clients and information about the Basics Guilford to promote healthy parent-child interaction at home. Every Baby Guilford will lead the communications campaign and focus on evaluation, leadership, and coordination support for the Trusted Spaces Healthy Babies initiative. A community health worker will be hired to coordinate and provide assistance for the project based on public health awareness and project implementation.

Salons and barbershops will host events throughout the program with a focus on pre-conception, prenatal and postnatal health, and early childhood development.  Topics at these events will also include healthy cooking, health screenings, accessing government benefits, such as food and nutrition services, and information on Basics Guilford.

According to the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services’ 2020 Maternal and Child Health Data Brief, Guilford County was one of the top five worst of 100 counties in North Carolina in infant mortality. While Guilford County experienced an 18% decrease in the overall infant mortality rate in 2020, is remains one of the highest in North Carolina. Maternal and infant health outcomes are key indicators for gauging the overall health and wellbeing of a community.

In Guilford County, Black infant mortality is impacted at higher levels than Hispanic and white infants in four of the five categories, including infant mortality rate, preterm births, low birth weight, and very low birth weight. For late or no prenatal care, Black infants were impacted by a 15% increase over white infants.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of maternal death in the U.S., or more simply put, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of new moms. It can threaten women’s heart health during pregnancy and later in life, making it important that women understand how to care for themselves and their babies. Black women face a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, having a stroke, and complications during or immediately after pregnancy. Pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are rising at an alarming rate — and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause. According to the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services 2019 Leading Causes of Death Data Brief, Diseases of the Heart is the second leading cause of death, accounting for 18% or all deaths in Guilford County, and stroke is the fourth leading cause of death.


About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health, and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.

About Every Baby Guilford

Every Baby Guilford’s mission is to ignite and mobilize Guilford County through partnerships and unified strategies to eliminate racial disparities and prevent infant deaths.

About March of Dimes

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies.

About Ready for School, Ready for Life

Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization working to create a connected, innovative system of care for Guilford County’s youngest children and their families. Learn more at