Planting Seeds: the Gift of Early Learning - Lessons from Childhood + Clients

Facilitating a Board Retreat with Barrett Early Learning Center

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a board retreat with Barrett Early Learning Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. Barrett’s roots run deep in the Charlottesville community. They are the oldest childcare center in the Commonwealth, having opened their doors in 1935 as the Janie Porter Barrett Nursery School under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program. Even after this federal program ended in 1941, community members fought for the center to remain open because they recognized it was an important resource for working class women in the community, as well as their families.

I was extremely excited to work with the board to help them figure out their direction over the next 3 years. We spent the morning doing activities that forced them to think critically about their long-term vision and future of the center. At the end, they were grateful for the opportunity to come together and to craft a vision and goals that reflected their commitment to providing high quality early childhood education to their children and families.

As I drove back to Richmond, I too felt grateful for the opportunity to work with them, as they were both engaged and thoughtful. But I was also grateful because I knew that their very best work could make a world of difference in the lives of the children and families they served. I knew this, because it had for me.

My Own Journey

My brother and I had both attended a Head Start program in New York City, which is a federally funded program that provides affordable childcare for pre-school aged children.  I do not remember too much from these early years, but I certainly remember being dropped off at the center in my neighborhood and my mother leaving to go to work and her or a close friend picking us up at the end of the day. My time in Head Start planted seeds. It sparked my love for learning, reinforced my cognitive and social development outside of my home, and gave my mother a safe and affordable option for childcare so she could work and provide for my brother and me. It was an invaluable resource for my family and me.

During the summer of 2012, I was offered an opportunity to work at the Bloomingdale Family Program in New York City as a teacher. There, I was able to learn about early childhood development curriculum, get to know Head Start families, cultivate relationships with adorable 3 and 4 year old children, and better understand what it means to be a high quality child care center.

As their consultant and facilitator, I was a reflection of this, a person who had been poured into early in my life and was able to provide the gift of helping another early childhood center live into their mission to transform their community by providing access to early childhood education.
— Mariah Williams

It is always special when I get to work with an organization or group that so deeply reflects who I am and who does work that truly matters. My time with Barrett not only reinforced my understanding of the importance of childhood education, it was an opportunity to show the difference that early education can make it the lives of the most marginalized communities. As their consultant and facilitator, I was a reflection of this, a person who had been poured into early in my life and was able to provide the gift of helping another early childhood center live into their mission to transform their community by providing access to early childhood education.