As a child, I spent much of my time exploring the beautiful, backyard Blue Ridge forests with my cousins and friends — splashing through wandering creeks, climbing majestic trees, and investigating rocks and bugs. When I came back inside as the sun went down, I’d cook with my grandma or watch movies with my dad. It was those joyous moments that shaped who I am today.
Both of my parents served honorably in the United States Air Force. My mom was a medical technician for four years, and my dad worked in base security for 20 years. My parents relied on my grandmother to take care of me when they worked, and we were fortunate that she was available and willing. Grandma and I would bake favorite recipes and play with the dog. She’d tell me stories about my dad as a child.
Growing up in a military family, I learned that we are all interconnected, and we all play an important role in each other’s well-being. Each of us contributes to the greater good. I learned that it’s important to give back and use my voice to help make my community a vibrant place to live.
When you think back to your own childhood, what special moments stay in your heart? How did you and your loved ones spend time together? When you think about your relationship with your child, what memories bring a smile to your face? What are your hopes and dreams for your little one? For your family? For your community?
Relationships are at the heart of early care and education. Parents are their child’s first and most important teachers. (We’ll use “parents” to represent anyone who is a child’s caregiver: moms, dads, grandparents, foster parents, or cousins.) Parents bring funds of knowledge — strengths, experience, and interests — to their homes, communities, and early learning environments.
Parents know their children’s strengths and what they need to survive and thrive. That’s why parent voices can be so powerful in advancing a better Arizona for our children. There are many ways to elevate your voice, from your right to vote to requesting to speak at local school board or city council meetings.
One effective way to make your voice heard as a champion for your child — and the children in your community — is to connect with your legislators. Legislator salaries are paid by taxpayer dollars, and these representatives are elected to represent all of their constituents.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- Find your elected representatives. Do a little research. Make note of the contact information for your elected officials. Enter your home address at childcareaware.org/our-issues/public-policy/find-your-legislator/ to see everyone who represents you in the federal Congress, the state legislature, your county, and even your city.
- Stay up-to-date on early education issues. Keep current on early care and education issues. Stay connected with your child’s early childhood educators through participation in parent groups, and by reading education resources from trusted sources like the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- Call and email your legislators. Emails, tweets and other social media messages are important ways to connect with your legislator. But, even in this digital age, nothing quite replaces a person-to-person phone call. Our legislators’ work is to represent the needs of constituents in their districts. So don’t hesitate to give them a call! Start off by introducing yourself and saying, “I am a voting constituent.” If you get voicemail, be prepared to leave a message with your name, contact information, and a brief description of how you’d like your legislator to support children and families in your community.
- Talk about your child and what you need. Your story is unique. No one can tell your story better than you can. Whether it’s benefiting from a child care scholarship or having difficulty finding a spot at a quality early learning center, your successes and challenges as a parent help connect you with elected officials who make decisions on our behalf. Explain your challenges and what they can do to help you survive and thrive.
Once you’ve started building that relationship with your legislators, keep it going! Early care and education advocates like me work toward equitable investments and resources in communities that need them the most. Sustained relationships help legislators understand our community’s hopes and dreams for children and how they can provide solutions to make them a reality.
The early years are important for our little learners. We are stronger as a community when we come together to make sure everyone has what they need. I often think back to the joy and peace I felt exploring those woodlands with loved ones. We are each strong individual trees, but we are a mighty forest that grows together. There is power in the collective voices of parents — the power to make a difference for our children now and for generations to come.