At a 50th anniversary celebration on June 24, Executive Director Steve Vick of the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston singled out the work his devoted staff, dedicated teachers, the board as well as parents and child caregivers do every day, saying “they are uplifting families and educating children.” The Baby Toddler Nursery, caring for children as young as six weeks old and founded 50 years ago this summer, is the critical first stop in this journey.
The past 15 months have been challenging for everyone, but perhaps no more than for small non-profit organizations. Mr. Vick referred to those challenges, making a special call out of thanks and recognition to the new President & CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation, Sol Anderson, attending the IWSE celebration on only his fourth day in his new job.
Mr. Vick thanked Mr. Anderson’s predecessor, Monique Jones, for helping provide several organization-saving grants of $25,000. Those grants helped keep IWSE afloat, and combined with federal PPE loans, allowed IWSE to “emerge stronger and better than before the pandemic,” he said.
The result was an investment in every employee with a tenure longer than four months: an immediate 5% bonus, a match to their 403(b) saving accounts, contributions toward educational support, and investments in training and development. Mr. Vick said in his 30 years of leading nonprofits, he has never been able to offer 5% bonuses to any staff at any organization. He proclaimed, “People are what make us powerful,” and investing in these people benefits everyone, especially the children in their care.
Other celebration speakers included Pam Staples, Baby Toddler Nursery Site Director; Robert Jones, board chair; and teachers Paula Richards and Stephanie Lane-Baker.
But the focal point of the morning was presenting the “Early Childhood Champion Award” to Illinois Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago).
Sen. Pacione-Zayas holds a Ph.D. in educational policy studies from the University of Illinois and brings a strong background and interest in Latino studies to her work. Her prior experience includes the Latino Policy Forum’s Education Department, director of community schools at Enlace Chicago, and Associate Vice President of Policy at the Erickson Institute, where she specialized in programs and policies focused on early childhood.
She opened her remarks by telling the assembled group about a universal Masai greeting that translates to, “And how are the children?” The meaning behind the greeting is that if all of the children in the community are well, the community is also well. She sees the relevance to this concept today, saying “The community sets up children to be who they are. Children learn in context to the web of relationships around them – their parents, caregivers, and teachers. Their environment helps shape them: the care they receive, the community around them, and the city where they live. The quality of this care can enhance or undermine child development. We know that the first five years are essential in a child’s development. The first five years can represent generational change in a child and a family’s life.”
She considers childcare work a form of human rights work. It is a catalyst for fueling antiracism. The work that IWSE does is deliberate, it provides multiple adults to a small group of children, ensuring a small ratio; and it honors the identity and home language of the child. The benefits are bi-directional: school is ready for the children and the children are ready for school.
Sen. Pacione-Zayas said she believes today’s society is nothing without its early childcare workforce. As the pandemic proved, childcare is essential to everybody. Nurturing, loving teachers instill in children the tools they need to be the adults we want for tomorrow.
After the applause for Sen. Pacione-Zayas faded and photos had been taken, Mr. Vick led the group in an alcohol-free toast of sparkling apple juice.