Start Early Education


By Carrie Zelin Johnson M.Ed.
December 16, 2021

Now in its 10th year, the Start Early Funders Coalition is a collaboration of more than 15 members of Minnesota’s philanthropic community all focused on supporting our youngest children in Minnesota and their families. All of our events and activities have the tradition of accomplishing three things: 1. Centering equity within our public policy and our learning and research work to improve early childhood care and education access for our state’s youngest learners and those who care for them, 2. Amplifying the voices of our communities’ experts, including parents and early care and education providers to better inform our practices and public policies, and 3. Making time to honor one another and celebrating our collective successes along the way.

Celebrating Successes Along the Way
We recently hosted the 15th anniversary the Annual Nancy Latimer Convening and focused on the theme of Cultivating CommUnity: Listen Well and Act Now.

Virtually we gathered to honor individuals, organizations, and legislators for outstanding achievements in support of young children across Minnesota. This year’s awardees of the “Nancy” Award, were Lynn Haglin who recently retired from the Northland Foundation, and Nedra Robinson of Simpson Housing Service’s Inc. Lynn Haglin reflected a child-centered philosophy of inclusiveness that has guided her lifelong career in education. She expressed extreme appreciation for Nancy Latimer’s legacy and the collaboration efforts of providers, foundations, community partners, policymakers and business leaders across the state of Minnesota. Lynn charged us with continuing our commitment to “rally communities, focus attention on the needs of children and youth and garner support for programs that will help them reach their full potential -and ultimately for fill their hopes and dreams.”
Nedra Robinson, notable community changemaker and long-standing advocate for effective early childhood education policies and practices responded humbly to the award. She stated that this honor reflects the collective work we are all doing on behalf of children and families and reminded us that there is more work to be done to “ensure that all children have safe and healthy lives.”

“Rally communities, focus attention on the needs of children and youth and garner support for programs that will help them reach their full potential -and ultimately for fill their hopes and dreams.” -Lynn Haglin

We recognized Advocacy Champions in the organization, parent and provider categories and four Legislative Champions. The Organization Advocacy Champion Awards went to Cindy Croft Bachman; retired ED and Founder of The Center for Inclusive Child Care (CICC) and the late Senator Jerry Hughes (posthumous) for the foundational legislative funding that help build Minnesota’s Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE). Provider Advocacy Champion Awards went to Candice Deal-Bartell of Cultivate Mankato and Cultivate MN and to the cohort of ECE leaders who make up the West Central MN Child Care Center Directors Association. Rasheena Bickham, a parent and provider at Catholic Charities Northside Child Development Center Catholic Charities Northside Child Development Center who won an advocacy champion award affirmed the importance of striving hard to educate our children and help them to believe in themselves because they need to “believe that they can do anything and everything they put their minds to.” She stressed that often parents and early childhood care and education professionals are not always acknowledged for the work that they do in the lives of children and our communities. Rasheena gets it and that is exactly why we are committed to honoring one another annually!

Help children to believe in themselves because they need to “believe that they can do anything and everything they put their minds to.” – Rasheena Bickham

Legislative Champion Awards went to Senator Eric Pratt, Senator Melissa H. Wiklund, Representative Ruth Richardson and Representative Liz Olson Senator Pratt lifted up the importance of supporting those ECE providers who are not only educators but also play an important role I our economy, many of whom are small business owners. Both Senator Wiklund and Representative Olson stressed the critical impact that policies and funding can have on children and families when we prioritize access to high quality early learning opportunities. Rep Ruth Richardson helped us center on equity; “We know Minnesota has much work to do to address the persistent and unacceptable educational disparities that we’re seeing in the state. There are real children and real families behind the data that are experiencing that pain.” She stated that Minnesota will never be as prosperous as we can be until those opportunity gaps are closed.

The event was emceed by Andre Dukes of the Northside Achievement Zone and a few Start Early Funders Coalition members presented as well: Tiffany Kong; St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation, Allison Corrado; Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of MN, Denise Mayotte; Sheltering Arms Foundation, Nancy Jost; West Central Initiative Foundation and Carrie Zelin Johnson; Greater Twin Cities United Way.

Amplifying Voices from the Community

Start Early is committed to equity and has made a renewed effort to lean in, listen well and learn about ways to advocate and activate agency. Bao Phi, an award-winning children’s book author, spoken word artist, poet and social justice activist, shared personal and professional insights into the need for culturally responsive and inclusive practices. He shared a portion of his one of his books and stressed the importance of children, families and educators having access to diverse literature, and historically and culturally accurate educational resources.

The event’s panel, moderated by Betty Emarita, one of the coalition’s co-chairs and who serves on the Advisory Council for the Community Solutions Fund for Healthy Child Development, highlighted the collaborative work and recommendations put forth in a new report created by community members and community partners, including parents and providers. The new report “The Community Solutions Fund for Healthy Child Development: A New Tool for Equity,” authored by Betty Emarita, gives recommendations for equity-driven funding, policies, practices and partnerships. Our panelists were:

• May Losloso, Community Engagement Director, for the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota; a member of the Community Solutions Fund Advisory Council, and a member of the Voices & Choices for Children Steering Committee.
• Adikoons Hayley Olson; Coordinator of Parent and Adult Programs, Ojibwemotaadidaa Omaa Gidakiiminaang (OOG), an Ojibwe immersion academy with Fond du lac Tribal and Community College.
• Gevonee Ford, Founder and Executive Director, of the Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (NDCAD).

The panelists spoke to their experiences with funding partners who entered their equity work centering on community-led solutions within three culturally specific communities. The panelists reflected on what approaches were necessary, helpful, and even surprising. The importance of authentic relationships, listening well, building trust, and affirming community family and knowledge systems were named as effective approaches. Recommendations from panelists and those highlighted in the report name actionable strategies; how to align with the work and “act now.”

Centering Equity

The Start Early Funders Coalition has a mission to leverage our unique perspective as early-childhood funders to advance learning and research as well as public policy and community support for affordable, accessible, high-quality care and education in Minnesota, so that all children have a strong and healthy start and are prepared to contribute to our state’s vitality.

Minnesota will never be as prosperous as we can be until those opportunity gaps are closed. -Representative Ruth Richardson

Start Early’s work is aligned with Greater Twin Cities United Way’s (GTCUW) vision for educational success: All children are ready to thrive academically, personally, and socially. Collectively we understand that preparing every child to engage in our community is an investment in our youngest leaners and our region’s economic vitality. The “New Tool for Equity” has the potential to guide philanthropic giving, holistic grant making and educational advocacy in both learning and research and within public policy work. It affirms the importance of investing in community-based participatory grant making and research that incorporates community wisdom and values the assets of the communities and teaches us that when centering on equity we must de-center ourselves.
In the spirit of celebrating our coalition’s 10th anniversary it is an honor to lift-up the work of the MN Community Solutions Fund for Healthy Child Development and co-commission this report with the MDH/Center for Health Equity Team and Voices & Choices for Children. Our hope is that you found this year’s event and this reflection informative, affirming, and inspiring. Please join us in our continued efforts to listening well and taking actions that will cultivate commUnity across the state of Minnesota.