Let the celebrations begin! Over the course of eight months, the Center on Society and Health has been working with Engaging Richmond and a group of Gilpin Parent Leaders to strengthen early childhood programming in the Richmond area. The project came to a close this month, after the Gilpin Parent Leaders celebrated their impressive door-to-door preschool enrollment campaign in which they knocked on all 743 doors in Gilpin Court over only four days.
The Strengthening Early Childhood Programming in Richmond Project came through the City of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building as part of a grant award from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support Richmond’s efforts to facilitate stronger coordination across multiple early childhood services and to develop new models for connecting families to needed support services. The award was the result of the work of the Early Childhood Task Force, convened by the Office of Community Wealth Building in collaboration with Richmond Public Schools and other community organizations.
In collaboration with Engaging Richmond, the Center provided rigorous stakeholder engagement and analysis with the goal of establishing a community-wide framework for providing comprehensive support services for families of young children and strengthening early childhood education. Engaging Richmond took on extensive data collection efforts, leading nine focus groups of parents and primary caregivers of young children, conducing 10 interviews with informal and center-based caregivers, and surveying over 300 parents and primary caregivers of young children living in six public housing communities in Richmond in order to understand the current state of early childhood programming and to identify any barriers to services.
While Engaging Richmond’s data collection efforts were underway, a second group of community members were brought together to talk about their experiences using early childhood education programs and services and make recommendations for policy change and improved service delivery. This group–the Gilpin Parent Leaders Group–met 19 times over the course of the project. They were trained to become leaders and advocates in their community, and this project concluded with them conducting their door-to-door preschool enrollment campaign in Gilpin Court. Despite the 90 degree weather and countless apartment building stairs, the team was able to knock on all 743 doors over the course of 4 days. “I did not think we could cover that many doors in four days!” said one parent leader. However, they were able to accomplish their goal because, as another parent commented, “we worked as a team to get it done.” On May 15th, the Gilpin Parent Leaders celebrated their achievements and time spent in this group with barbeque and cake.
Through the experience, these parent leaders have learned new skills they will be able to carry into their future endeavors. One parent leader credits her time with the group as preparation for her new position as a social science researcher with another VCU Health project: “[The parent leader group] got me prepared for what I’m about to do.”
Thanks to the incredible hard work of our community partners in Engaging Richmond and the Gilpin Parent Leaders group, both city officials and neighbors have a better idea of how we can strengthen early childhood programming in Richmond.