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Your Life Calling

Giving Kids the Right Start

A former executive finds a fulfilling career advocating for young children

Mary Reed is a recognizable face in Boston. She's frequently found working the halls of the state legislature, trying to garner support for her passion: young children and their educators. Reed is the founder and president of the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children (BTWIC), a nonprofit organization that advocates for early childhood education. Reed, 71, answers these questions about her life calling.

Q. You left a successful career as a vice president at Goodwill Industries to take over your mother's childcare business. Why?

At the time my mother passed away, the center had been operating for close to 60 years. Our family felt obliged to the community we'd served for so long to continue this service. Initially, I ran the childcare center. But my daughter, Wanda, and my son, Ken, subsequently took that over while I've become more involved in research and advocacy work.

Q. How has the childcare center changed since your mom started it?

For one thing, the community has changed. We used to serve middle-class families, but those families have moved out. Now, a lot of low-income families depend on our centers.

See also: AARP's Create the Good

We currently have two infant and toddler centers, and we're now working on opening a third for that age group. We used to offer preschool but the city of Boston began offering that for free in public schools, so the need was diminished. We realized that the need in the community was for care for children ages 0-3.

Q. Why is early childhood education so important?

The early years set the stage for all of the learning a child will do throughout their life. Without a strong foundation, a child may fall behind when he enters grade school. And that pattern can continue: You end up with kids dropping out of high school and not going to college and ultimately ending up in another part of our system, such as prison, where you're paying the huge social costs for intervention. It's really important in the early years to be very productive for children.

Q. What do you see as the most important components of a good early childhood facility?

It's crucial for kids to learn in small classrooms where they can enjoy good social interactions. I think it is also important to have an age-appropriate curriculum where they can start to be engaged in learning. Of course, safety is paramount — and so is a talented staff that will love and nurture the kids in their care.

Next: What's your biggest challenge? >>

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