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Giving Kids the Right Start

A former executive finds a fulfilling career advocating for young children

Q. Tell me about the work of the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children?

The goal of the initiative is to strengthen early education and care for children through research, policy development, communication and advocacy. We focus on the neediest families — those for whom poverty and other factors put their children in jeopardy of physical, social, cognitive and other developmental delays. If we can identify these issues early, we can make sure to deal with them during the formative early childhood years.

Q. The initiative also does research, right?

Our center has done quite a bit of research that has actually affected policy in our state. As a result of a 2006 study we did on the importance of continuity of care, we got the state to increase subsidies for early childhood education for needy families from six months to a year. We've also helped get information for families translated into different languages. And we recently did a study on how little early childhood educators earn — an average of $25,000 a year — and are now advocating for higher wages for them.

Q. What do you see as your biggest challenge?

Since the initiative was started, the biggest challenge has been keeping it going. Every morning, I wake up and wonder, "Am I going to have enough resources to continue this work? Will I be able to finish what I start?" That's not a unique challenge for a nonprofit. Policy, advocacy and research are tough to sell to people. But when people understand what we do, they're very happy to support it.

Q. What advice do you have for others who want to do advocacy work?

You have to be inspired by something, to get that fire in the belly, so you can step outside of yourself and do something different. It can begin with something you're doing at your church or something you're doing as a part-time volunteer, as long as it is something that inspires you to make a difference. Sometimes just getting mad at something, or feeling that there's an injustice being done and you'd like to see it changed can initiate a call to action.

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