The Intersection

Early Efforts | Early Childhood Philanthropy Amidst COVID-19

March 1, 2021

In February, our early childhood philanthropy webinar brought together Ellen Roche, Meka Sales, and Monica Hobbs Vinluan. During the event, panelists discussed the work their organizations are undertaking to alleviate some of the pressure created by the pandemic. The audience learned how grantmaking is supporting children and families during this unusual and stressful time.

Shifting Priorities to Support all Populations

“Our mission hasn’t changed, we work through five strategies, we really shifted our tactics in response to the realities of virtual learning.”

-Ellen Roche, Executive Director of Trust for Learning

Ellen Roche, executive director of Trust for Learning, shared how her philanthropic partnership works to expand the highest quality models of early childhood education to serve the most vulnerable children. Specifically, the organization works in five areas: movement building, expansion of high-quality ideal learning models, policy change, networks of practice, and pathways. Even before COVID-19, the organization’s pedagogical experts looked at different early childhood approaches and how educators were recruited and trained. During the pandemic, the organization has worked to layer racial equity into every level of its grantmaking process.

Meka Sales serves as director of special initiatives for the Duke Endowment, an almost century-old organization that serves mostly North and South Carolina. They focus on four areas: higher education, health care, United Methodist churches, and child and family wellbeing. Their program, “Ready for School, Ready for Life,” based in Guilford County, NC, was two years into its ten-year plan when the pandemic began. Similar to Trust for Learning, Duke Endowment is working to embrace equity and better understand how race operationalizes in various counties.

Monica Hobbs Vinluan, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, works to broaden discussions around health, equity, and wellbeing. Regardless of where a person lives, they should have access to live the healthiest life possible. Specifically, the foundation focuses on healthcare system, healthy communities, healthy children, and community and children together. Much like Trust for Learning and Duke Endowment, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has pivoted to increase understanding and awareness on systemic inequities. During the pandemic, the Foundation has also worked with grantees to be flexible as the nature of policy and advocacy work changes.

Connecting Families with Resources

“The fact is that in order to rebuild the economy, we need to rebuild the early care and education system.  That is a grand effort and a wonderful opportunity we have since we all know that’s an underfunded system.”

-Meka Sales, Director of Special Initiatives for the Duke Endowment

The Duke Endowment is examining the interconnected nature of pediatricians, pre-K, and families. Currently, the organization works to help families navigate available resources, regardless of demographics. New parents, especially parents of color, may need greater support. The pandemic disaggregated some services, which in turn made navigating early childhood challenging. The organization uses data to help families and the early childhood providers that serve them. Quality community providers need better trauma-focused care and family engagement.

Similarly, Trust for Learning has paid close attention to children from birth to age eight and how inequities manifest during that time. They are learning that educators, parents, and children are creative, scrappy, and resilient. The organization is looking at changes that will outlast the pandemic. For example, Ellen Roche talked about standardized testing, and all the conversations around assessment and measurement. Changes will likely happen in this area so that students are evaluated in a more fair, equitable manner. Roche also discussed trauma-informed practices and supporting communities.

Health Equity for Caregivers

“Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthy.”

-Monica Hobbs Vinluan, Senior Program Officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Across the early education sector, one in six workers have lost their jobs, and with it, their limited health benefits. To ensure the economy can bounce back in the future, we need to focus on supporting the child care workforce, said Monica Hobbs Vinluan. Vinluan’s organization strives to remove health barriers. Although the pandemic affects everyone, it does not affect every community the same. Black, Latinx, and Native Americans are being hospitalized and dying at rates that surpass the average.

Across the board, caregivers have reported declines in mental and emotional health during the pandemic. Many of these caregivers are women of color who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. These individuals should be prioritized when it comes vaccines.

To learn more about the thinking behind early childhood philanthropy and Ideal Learning, see these resources:

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