Baby Nursery 50th Anniversary Celebration Honors State Senator Pacione-Zayas
On June 24, Executive Director Steve Vick summarized the work he, his dedicated staff, dedicated teachers, the Board of Directors of the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston (IWSE) and the parents and caregivers of the children do every day, saying “they’re raising families and educating children.” The Baby Toddler Nursery, which cares for children as young as 6 weeks old and founded 50 years ago this summer, is the critical first stop on this journey.
The last 15 months have been difficult for everyone, but perhaps no more than for the small nonprofits. Mr Vick referred to these challenges, making a special appeal of thanks and recognition to the new President and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF), Sol Anderson, who attended the IWSE celebration. only on her fourth day in her new job.
Mr. Vick thanked the ECF, Mr. Anderson’s predecessor, Monique Jones, for helping to provide several organizational saving grants of $ 25,000. These grants helped keep the IWSE afloat and, combined with federal EPI loans, allowed the IWSE to “come out stronger and better than before the pandemic,” he said.
The result was an investment in every employee with a tenure of more than four months at IWSE: an immediate bonus of 5%, an amount corresponding to their 403 (b) savings accounts, contributions to educational support and investments in training and development. Mr Vick said that in his 30 years as a head of nonprofit organizations, he had never been able to offer 5% bonuses to any staff member of any organization. He proclaimed, “People are what make us powerful,” and investing in them benefits everyone, especially the children in their care.
Other speakers included Pam Staples, site manager for the baby nursery; Robert Jones, Chairman of the Board of Directors; and teachers Paula Richards and Stephanie Lane-Baker, but the focus of the morning was the presentation of the “Early Years Champion Award” to Illinois Senator Christina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago).
Senator Pacione-Zayas holds a doctorate. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois and brings a solid background and interest in Latin American Studies to her work. Her previous experience includes the Education Department at the Latino Policy Forum, the Director of Community Schools at Enlace Chicago, and the 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 speaking to the assembled group of a universal Maasai greeting that translates to “How are the children doing?” The meaning of the greeting is that if all the children in the community are doing well, the community is doing as well. She sees the relevance of this concept today, saying, “The community makes children who they are. Children learn in the context of the network of relationships that surround them – their parents, guardians and teachers. Their environment helps shape them: the care they receive, the community around them and the city in which they live. The quality of this care can improve or hinder a child’s development. We know that the first five years are essential for a child’s development. The first five years can represent a generational change in the life of a child and a family.
She sees childcare work as a form of human rights work. It is a catalyst to fuel anti-racism. The work that IWSE does is deliberate, providing several adults to a small group of children, ensuring a small ratio; and it honors the identity and language spoken at home of the child. The benefits are two-way: the school is ready for the kids and the kids are ready for school.
Senator Pacione-Zayas said she believes today’s society is nothing without its child care workforce. As the pandemic has so singularly proven, child care is essential for everyone. Caring and loving teachers equip children with the tools they need to be the adults we want for tomorrow.
After the applause for Senator Pacione-Zayas faded and photos were taken, Mr. Vick led the group to an alcohol-free toast of sparkling apple juice.