First Focus was established five years ago when it was noticed that while many states have children's advocacy groups, they seemed to be working in silos, separate from one another occasionally coming together at an event or perhaps when an issue or concern seemed to straddle two areas. Bruce Lesley and his staff of now 15 dedicated advocates try to be a clearing house or a bridge for all those silos. Some states, such as Kentucky, have a strong group supporting and engaging in this work. The Kentucky Youth Advocates not only hosts Children's Advocacy Day at the Capitol in partnership with other groups (such as Kentucky PTA, Metro United Way, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky) and with support from First Focus. A great resource for all advocates in Kentucky (and elsewhere) is the annual Kids Count Data Book produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. As advocates we certainly have the passion and drive to stand up and voice our concerns, whether those concerns are about poverty, child abuse, equal education opportunities, but sometimes we just are telling a story or anecdote. It's important to have the data and facts which support the story you tell. If you haven't accessed this data, you should. It will help frame your discussion and dialogue in a way that will give you strength and power. I also suggest looking at First Focus's Top 25 Website Resources in 2011 for links to articles that support the work we all do on a fairly regular basis.
Part of our dialogue with Bruce and the staff that met with us was that a recent study showed that by a margin of 3 to 1 people are unsure that the future will be better for the next generation. Combine that with the statistics we see every day in our own communities about how many students are considered homeless, or living in poverty, or dropping out of school, and it isn't surprising that we are entering 2012 less than optimistic about the future. The saying "plant a seed now for others to sit in the shade" is never more potent than at this moment. In order to change the negative thinking that exists we need to start being positive in our efforts of engagement.
It is no small surprise that First Focus shares office space with Americas Promise, as the goals are really interconnected. If you want all children to be college/career ready and stay engaged in education, and feel supported in education as well, then you need to support those children from the cradle. Early childhood education is but one small aspect of this type of support. And while politicians speak about how our "children are the future" due to the constraints we are all facing today because of the economy, sadly budgets which support our most vulnerable are being drastically cut. So while leaders say they want a great future...they are actually placing roadblocks in front of our families so that future can't be realized.
So what did I learn from meeting with ASCD, Center for Science in the Public Interest, US Department of Education, and First Focus? That we are all connected as a community of care and concern. Whether our specific focus is about education (as mine has been) or about school nutrition, recess, child safety...they are all part of a larger discussion that we need to have. If the purpose of education is to create adults that feel compassionate towards one another and who want to continue to make the world better for the generation that follows then we need to make sure that those children have the best opportunities made available to them in all aspects of their lives.
So, today as I write this and everyone is committing to a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., it is important to know that tomorrow is also a day of service, and the day after that, and the next, and so on. Certainly not nationally recognized, but a it is also days in which we can make a difference. For,
All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What does the rest of 2012 hold for all of us? First we should acknowledge that we cannot do this important work alone. We must work together if we are to accomplish anything. That by connecting with one another and supporting the valuable work we do we will be able to create change agents and agencies that will benefit all our children. I can plant one tree now to provide shade for a few in the future, but if we all plant a tree, we provide shade for a generation.