In the fall of 2022, a group of community stakeholders convened to discuss challenges and opportunities in early learning and childcare across Huntington County. From those discussions, it was clear that immediate action was necessary and there was a shared commitment to tackle the work together. The Early Childhood Coalition of Huntington County was born!
We were not alone either. Huntington County has joined a growing list of county coalitions that make up the newly formed Northeast Indiana Regional Early Childhood Coalition. Thanks to an investment from Ambassador Enterprises, a legacy-minded private equity firm headquartered in Fort Wayne, coalitions throughout the region have worked with consultant Gensyn Design to assemble collaborative networks of early learning and childcare advocates with an objective to build better communities that support early childhood development and care.
Committed local stakeholders currently include the Community Foundation of Huntington County, Huntington County Community School Corporation, City of Huntington, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, Pathfinder Services Kids Kampus, United Way of Huntington County, Fortitude Fund and leaders in our health, financial services and faith communities. “We know investing in reliable, high quality and affordable childcare is the best thing we can do to improve the quality of life for Huntington families across the entire community,” says Richard Strick, Mayor of the City of Huntington. “Those early, formative years have life-changing impacts down the road.”
The Coalition’s mission is to create positive early childhood experiences through community collaboration. “This collaboration is absolutely essential to the success of our students and will make a significant difference in the lives of our kids and families,” states John Trout, Superintendent of Huntington County Community School Corporation. Various studies have shown that $1 invested in early childhood yields a return between $4 to $16 and results in higher graduation rates, income levels and productivity and lower school remediation, dependence on social programs and crime rates.
Research also shows that children’s development is highly influenced by the social, cognitive, emotional and physical environments they are exposed to in their early years. Positive experiences across these four dimensions are key determinants of health through adulthood. “Connecting families and caregivers with proper services, resources and training can have a large impact on public health,” explains Dr. Janelle Maxwell-Pflieger, physician at Cardinal Family Medicine. By proactively addressing gaps in early learning and childcare, our community can significantly influence future health outcomes.
To facilitate and lead the work of the Coalition, a full-time, paid coordinator is currently being sought. Although not a direct childcare position, the coordinator will be charged with aligning systems that create a community where quality early learning and childcare are accessible for all families. “We want a self-starter who is a problem solver and passionate childcare advocate,” says Matt Ditzler, Executive Director of the Community Foundation. “The Coordinator will make a substantial difference in our county’s present and future.” The Coalition Coordinator job description and information on how to apply for the position can be found at www.huntingtonccf.org/coalition.
Fostering an environment where childcare is accessible for all families can also be a key strategy in local economic development efforts. “In an employee survey, we found issues regarding childcare cost, hours and availability have led to increased stress and missed work,” states Tricia Miller, Human Resources Manager at Bendix. “This has a huge impact on our productivity and employee retention.” The Coalition will seek to partner with businesses like Bendix to craft innovative solutions that help working families and strengthen our local economy.
The Coalition recognizes that to open more early childhood opportunities it is necessary to expand the provider network and elevate the value of the early childhood profession. “New entrepreneurial approaches for attracting well-trained and paid childcare providers, including business and capital support for startups, will be required for the future sustainability of this critically under-resourced sector,” says John Niederman, Regional Director for Entrepreneurship with the Fortitude Fund. Early childhood professionals are essential for the nurturing and developmental environment needed for our children to succeed and for the economic prosperity of our families.
Those interested in partnering with the Coalition, through volunteer and/or monetary support, are encouraged to contact Matt Ditzler at email@example.com or 260-356-8878. The Coalition believes everyone has a role to play in this important community initiative. The future of our community depends on our collective action!