Kent County Great Start Parent Coalition wins statewide early childhood “Fierce Heart” award

In recognition of their outstanding work, this year the Kent County Great Start Parent Coalition was named the state’s top “Fierce Heart” organization for young children by the Early Childhood Investment Corporation.

The organization accepted their award during a press conference on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 in Room 252 of the State Capitol Building. Michigan’s sixth annual Star Power event took place the same day. On Main Streets and via “virtual Star Power” thousands of Michiganders showed their support for making early childhood a top legislative priority.

The Fierce Heart award, given by the Early Childhood Investment Corporation that works to maximize all state, local public and private investments into an efficient and effective Great Start early childhood development system for all of Michigan’s families,  honors individuals and organizations that show unwavering dedication to the Great Start vision and take relentless action at the national, state and/or local levels to bring that vision to reality.

The Investment Corporation supports the Great Start Initiative, a statewide effort to provide parents with the early childhood development resources they need to prepare their children for success in school, career and life.

Last year’s winner, Jessica Rowland of the Ionia County Great Start Parent Coalition, chose to pay it forward this year to Kent County.

“Our whole parent coalition voted on this,” Rowland said. “We just couldn’t get over all of the things they were doing in their community to make sure that kids arrive at school ready to succeed. It wasn’t just one thing; it was everything. Their events, their diaper drive, how they work with other agencies. It really was their ability to look at what children in their community need to be ready for kindergarten, to put things in place and then to advocate for those things. It was a unanimous decision.”

Kent County was chosen for the award from among 70 Great Start Parent Coalitions statewide. More than 25,000 parents statewide provide the parent voice for what works in early childhood development for local families.

Leslie Hawkins, one of three parent liaisons in Kent County, said the award is a “big honor.”

“We do the work we do because it’s the right thing to do for our children and all children in Michigan,” Hawkins said. “To know that our peers recognize that we’re doing good work is a huge honor.”

Hawkins said the Kent County Great Start Parent Coalition is getting close to the end of their fourth annual diaper drive and they expect to go beyond their goal. “In four years, we’ve raised more than 230,000 diapers.”

The diapers are distributed to food pantries and Kent County organizations for distribution. Hawkins said people return year after year to help with the drive. “You can feel the momentum building,” she said. “It’s a real need in the community and people who come to help know they are making a difference.”
At the same Lansing ceremony, Jamina Tepley of the Oakland County Great Start Parent Coalition, Mary Manner of the Traverse Bay Area Great Start Collaborative and Jan Shangle of Ottawa Great Start Collaborative will accept individual Fierce Heart awards for outstanding advocacy.