Preparing Children for Life

Ready for School, Ready for Life

By the age of 5, 90 percent of a child’s brain has developed, making these early years a critically formative period. During this period, the basis for later learning, physical, emotional and mental health, social skills, problem-solving and cognitive abilities occurs.

Banking on this data-backed knowledge, Guilford County, N.C., community members, families, leaders, supporters and stakeholders are coordinating efforts and resources to help ensure that young children and their families receive holistic early childhood services through a community network tied together under the banner of an organization named Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready).

“Ready Ready is an initiative focused on supporting children and families. We do that by bringing together cross-sector stakeholders and a variety of initiatives, proven strategies and programs,” says Chief Impact Officer Jacqueline McCracken.

By fostering and stewarding partnerships among over 100 participating organizations from a variety of sectors including government, health care, education, and social services, Ready Ready anchors a collective vision, connected strategies, direct supports, and coordination of wide-ranging efforts to ensure Guilford County families and their youngest children have what they need to thrive.

“It’s not just who is involved, but it’s all the interfacing touch points. Really that’s what this is about - how we bring together all of these disconnected, disjointed systems,” says McCracken.

Leadership and guidance comes directly from families in the community through the Guilford Parent Leader Network. Parent leader and now Ready Ready board member Erika Whitaker shares that, “Being able to utilize my voice, and know that my voice is valued, is definitely rewarding. It’s been a wonderful experience,” she shares.

“The strategies that Ready Ready and its partners are deploying are not things that we came up with by ourselves. It is the voice of this community saying here is what we see, and here’s what we want to do about it,” affirms McCracken.

The Duke Endowment has made a 10-year commitment to the effort, in collaboration with national philanthropy Blue Meridian Partners. They have agreed to make large, targeted investments in early childhood development that will enhance and equalize opportunities for better life outcomes in Guilford County. At the heart of this commitment are investments in integrated, evidence-based programs proven to effectively support families and their youngest children.

Ready Ready also serves as a navigator for families, guiding them to the services and supports they need, and, in turn, opening pathways for relationships and trust to develop between organizations and families.

“As a parent, you are kind of scared to use your voice. To have an organization behind you that is saying your voice is important. I am on the board now as well. So being able to utilize my voice, and know that my voice is valued is definitely rewarding. It’s been a wonderful experience.” 

Erika Whitaker, Parent and Ready Ready Board member

“We could not do this work without the trust of our families. No matter who they come to first, the trust needs to be in place, because then, as we do warm handoffs to other organizations, the groundwork has been laid,” comments Sebrina Cooke-Davis, executive director of Children’s Home Society of N.C., a Ready Ready partner organization.

“The promise that we are making to our families and our youngest children that they will be ready for kindergarten is huge and unprecedented,” says Ready Ready board co-chair Mindy Oakley.

The immense scale of this commitment has sparked optimism and determination among Ready Ready partners and Guilford County leaders.

“Is it hard? Yes. Is it tiring? Yes. Does everyone keep showing up? Yes,” McCracken observes.

Sebrina Cooke-Davis agrees. “Even in the midst of a lot of challenges, and lots of figuring things out, our community still moves forward in the spirit of what is best for children and families,” she exclaims.

Learn more about Ready for School, Ready for Life.

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