‘And How are the Children?’ An answer from the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative

Masai (Kenya) warriors—known as fearsome and intelligent---would traditionally greet each other with “And how are the children?” Among the many greetings one would assume that warriors would extend each other, it was “And how are the children?” Not, “How are the weapons?” or “Will we win the battle today?” Wow.

On the journey of social change, social impact and social profit, I work with some clients, partners and allies who do their work to affirmatively answer that question. One can wonder how our world would be if we consistently extended to each other such a greeting---regardless of our profession directly or indirectly impacting children.

Progress Strategies+ is pleased to work in public policy and advocacy efforts with the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC). ELNC works hard to answer “Healthy,” “Learning” and “Secure” to that timeless greeting of “And how are the children?” As a congressional staffer pretty fresh out of college I had the privilege of working for a congresswoman who brought her past work as a Registered Nurse to advocate for children with that question on her mind. She would be proud of organizations such as ELNC.

ELNC was first funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and is fearsome in its commitment to changing the conditions of vulnerable children in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Led by its Chief Executive Officer, Nkechy Ezeh, ELNC engages in their change work for vulnerable children through the successful design and implementation of an intentional preschool service system.

The distinctive of those preschool services comes through their aim at providing, expanding and sustaining the capacity of high quality early care and education programs in vulnerable neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. And similar to a village with a collective concern for its children ELNC is also a model of collective impact as their comprehensive preschool service system consists of seven partner organizations.

Those organizations are the Baxter Community Center, New Hope Baptist Church, South End Community Outreach Ministries, Steepletown Neighborhood Services, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, The Other Way Ministries and United Methodist Community House. Affirmed and acknowledged in successful service delivery, ELNC and its partner organizations have now stepped forward to learn more about advocacy and systems change strategy through public policy.

Progress Strategies+ is proud to assist, equip and inform ELNC in theory of change, policy advocacy and engagement with elected officials in a non-partisan manner that is permissible for non-profits---but that many choose not to do for reasons of time or misconceptions about advocacy. As we affirmed in one of the session pre-readings titled “What is Child Advocacy,” more groups and businesses must embrace their responsibility to raise the question with their public officials regarding legislation and public policy issues with: “Is this in the best interest of children and their families?”

We are moving through sessions such as Advocacy 101, Engagement with State Government and even Racial Equity and Policy with other areas in between. It has been encouraging to work in this project management area with organizations like ELNC who excel in service delivery but wish to explore or improve upon enhancing their voice to share with state, local and federal policy-makers on how decisions impact the children and families that they serve. More to be shared at another time.

I have worked in---or engaged with---all levels of government. I know that policy impacts programs. Furthermore, fairer and more socially responsible public policy can diminish the over-reliance of programs to solve systemic problems. When groups like ELNC wish to learn more and act upon such a reality through policy advocacy, they are truly taking that fearsome step to continue presenting an affirmative and positive answer to the greeting of “And how are the children?”

Eric Kenuawn Foster is principal and president of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm specializing in five areas of social responsibility with organizational, non-profit and corporate clients. Those areas are Diversity and Inclusion, Grant Writing and Project Management, Community Engagement Strategies, Public Policy and Advocacy and Corporate Social Responsibility. He first honed his experience and love for public policy as a congressional legislative aide on budget and tax policy in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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