Welcome to our social impact series, called “Five Questions.” On the first day of every month, we will share five questions with a community organization serving children and youth in Jackson County. We hope to inspire you, enlighten you, and connect you with community organizations should you ever need assistance. By sharing this with you, we hope that together we can be inspired to take action to improve our communities!
As a former teacher with a degree in child development, the mission of education is near and dear to my heart and this is just one of the reasons why I asked the Great Start Collaborative of Jackson County to be our featured organization this month. I connected with Bridget Griffith, Early Childhood Coordinator, with Great Start to learn more about their mission and the services they provide to children and families in Jackson County. Keep reading to learn more about this impactful organization.
Five Questions with Great Start Collaborative of Jackson County
1. What is the Great Start Collaborative of Jackson County and what is the mission of your organization?
The purpose of the Great Start Collaborative of Jackson County is to maintain an early childhood network with diverse representatives from all areas of the community including education and childcare, health and human resources, businesses, faith-based organizations, and families. Together we work to ensure Jackson County children are born healthy, developmentally on track, ready to succeed when entering school, and are reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
2. You provide so many services for youth and families in Jackson County – please tell us about them!
Since its launch in 2006, the Great Start Collaborative of Jackson County has grown to form a countywide network with diverse community representation. We work together to focus on the needs of children and families, realizing that the children at the greatest risk of not achieving the four early childhood outcomes (based on income, family and home environment, developmental ability, and race or ethnicity) must be served first.
It is because of the formation of our countywide network with over 30 community partners, that we can provide information and services to families and young children in a wide range of areas, including:
- Physical Health
- Social-Emotional Health
- Family Supports
- Basic Needs, Economic Stability, and Safety
- Parenting Education
- Early Education and Child Care
Those involved with the Great Start Collaborative recognize that an investment in early childhood is an economic issue for Jackson County and are committed to bringing about change in early childhood issues. This is evident through the following community highlights and accomplishments:
- Establishment of a strategic plan to guide the work and direction of the Great Start Collaborative.
- Involvement of community members from all sectors in collaborative meetings, trainings, and events through the dedication of time, staff, and resources.
- Strategic partnerships among early childhood programs, parents, providers, and other community agencies.
- Identification and analysis of current community services through a partnership with Central Michigan 2-1-1.
- The offering of FREE community playgroups for families with children ages 0-5.
- Early Literacy efforts: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program (2008-2017), Summer Literacy Labs (2018-2019), Jackson County Little Free Libraries (2018-Present), and Jackson Reads (2020-Present)
Subcommittees of the Collaborative made up of families, educators, community, and social service agency members, meet regularly to discuss, plan, and coordinate early childhood programs and services that will improve early childhood outcomes. Meeting minutes from both our Family Support and School Readiness subcommittees are kept up-to-date and meeting locations and times are listed on our calendar. Take a look – if you want to help make a difference in our children’s lives and future outlook; consider joining in on a meeting. We would love to have you join us!
3. Child developmental milestones and play are so interconnected. Can you please tell us about the work you do to support both of these areas, and what a parent can do if they are concerned about their infant or toddler’s development?
We strongly believe that children learn best through play and with hands-on opportunities. Open-ended activities that allow children to learn at their own pace are very beneficial. Children learn so much during their first few years of life through play and experimenting with the world around them. Through play, they learn problem-solving and cause and effect. They learn how to compromise, how to resolve conflicts, and how to share. Fine and gross motor skills are formed and their creativity and imagination are nurtured. They also learn to have independence and positive self-esteem. Children learn how to think and how to process learning all through play and open-ended activities. If a family ever has any concerns about their child’s development, they can always talk to their child’s doctor or reach out to Early On at 517-768-2114 or visit https://www.1800earlyon.org/
4. I often hear of families trying to find high-quality childcare and preschool openings for their children. What tips and suggestions can you offer to local families?
Families have many options they can explore to find the quality childcare and preschool that works best for them.
The options are as follows:
- www.greatstarttoquality.org This is a free-to-use website where families can search for childcare and preschool options near them. This site provides center contact information, information about the programming offered and information on the center’s license status and quality.
- Preschool Interest Form for Head Start and GSRP Families can complete this form if they are interested in a Head Start or GSRP preschool spot.
- Families can also go to Childcare Network of Michigan https://www.childcarenetwork.org/ to find quality childcare and to learn about childcare scholarship dollars that might be available.
5. You offer access to Trusted Advisors on your website. Please tell us about the Trusted Advisor program and the services and resources they provide.
Our amazing Trusted Advisors work hard with our community to meet people where they are at and to help them find resources. Trusted Advisors are out in the community to answer questions and help people navigate systems to receive help and support. They support people through the entire process of receiving help/support and are there when new obstacles may arise. Their support is very hands-on! The direct contact numbers of each Trusted Advisor are listed on the Great Start website at www.greatstartjackson.org. Anyone may contact them directly if in need of help with housing, employment, transportation, medical, food, and anything else.
Bonus Question: What is your favorite kid-friendly place in Jackson County?
The Dahlem Center! Their natural playground is so much fun for all ages and the trails are beautiful during all seasons. You never know what kind of animals you’ll see and it is all FREE!