1. What drew you to first become involved with Save the Children?
I joined Save the Children in 2003 as the Vice President for U.S. programs after working in the private sector as well as for various advocacy and direct service organizations and even elected office. The common thread through these positions has always been my focus on advancing the right of every child to a safe and vibrant childhood, so working for Save the Children was a natural fit.
When I started at Save the Children, my focus was creating and overseeing our early childhood education programs in the United States. A few years later, we created our emergency response and recovery programs in the U.S. Six years ago, I created our advocacy affiliate Save the Children Action Network, where we mobilize Americans to ensure that every child in the U.S. has access to high-quality early childhood education and that children around the world survive and thrive. We believe that all kids deserve a strong start, that's why we’re working to make high-quality early education a reality for all kids.
2. What are the needs unique to children and families in rural America?
Across America, the experiences shaping children’s lives are starkly different. While many children are getting the chances to learn and develop that they need, many other children are not given the opportunity to have the childhoods they deserve.
This is too often the reality for children living in rural America’s poverty-stricken pockets, where nearly 1 in 4 grows up in poverty. Unfortunately, children who live in poverty are more likely to start school significantly behind their peers and never catch up, leading to lifelong consequences. These children tend to have the fewest learning materials at home. And millions, especially in rural areas, lack high-speed internet and the digital devices necessary for opportunities like distance learning.
3. Why is early education so critical to these children?
Early education is a proven ladder out of poverty, and early learning opportunities are critical for children, regardless of their family’s income. A child’s brain is 80 percent developed by age 3 and 90 percent developed by age 5. With the most rapid period of brain development occurring so early in life, investing in early childhood education is the most effective way to ensure all children reach their full potential in school and beyond.
Early education leads to children performing better in school, getting higher-paying jobs, relying less on social programs and, ultimately, contributing more to our society and economy. On the other hand, early learning deficits persist into adulthood and are associated with dropping out of school early, poor physical and mental health and negative economic consequences.
4. How has the pandemic impacted them and what is Save the Children doing to help them?
The educational gaps and lack of access to nutritious food in rural communities across America existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic began. However, effects of the pandemic have greatly magnified these challenges. While many schools have reopened in some capacity, a great number of kids are still being educated at home, while other students have gone back to school, but not in a format they are familiar with. These changes have been challenging for students and their families, as they are in communities that don’t have many of the learning resources they need. Additionally, with many children relying on school for meals, we are committed to keeping kids’ bellies full of fresh, nutritious food. Since the onset of the pandemic, Save the Children has supported these families in need, bringing learning materials, educational resources, meals, toys and games to more than 750,000 children in 200 communities nationwide.
5. What are the easiest ways people can do to support Save the Children’s initiatives?
Well, of course – you can shop right here on this site through December 25 and J. McLaughlin will donate a portion of the proceeds to support this important work. You can also click here for the many different ways to get involved!