Michigan's Great Start Parent Coalitions are growing by leaps and bounds, especially in Clare-Gladwin

By Brenda Brissette-Mata

Creating an active Parent Coalition isn’t as easy as getting a group of parents together for coffee and doughnuts.

There are 70 Parent Coalitions in the state of Michigan, each a part of the Great Start network. The members of these coalitions are representatives of their communities. They help advance local activities and lend their voice as consumers of early childhood products and programs.

Members are volunteers. They become involved for any number of reasons, but they stay because they care about their young children, the children of their community and Michigan.

The Clare-Gladwin Great Start Collaborative director, Heather DuBois, is thrilled to see that the Clare-Gladwin Parent Coalitions have made incredible strides this year to build membership.

Coalition membership has increased from approximately 20 members in in 2010, to more than 150 members in 2011.

Heather DuBois became the director of the Great Start Collaborative in January 2011, at the same time Rachel Haltiner came on as the parent liaison for Clare County.

Amanda Cote, parent liaison for the Clare-Gladwin Parent Coalition, had been part of the Great Start family since April, 2009. Cote said building membership the first year was difficult.

But this year, it all started coming together.

DuBois, Haltiner and Cote worked together to make it easier for parents to attend the meetings.

“We began by eliminating barriers to participation,” Cote said.

Knowing that parents are busy, the coalitions provided meals so parents could attend meetings close to dinner-time. They offered child care at meetings and made sure that transportation was available.

Haltiner believes parent-led meetings also have helped increase membership. Parents can choose the level of participation that works best for them ranging from providing feedback to advocating at the local and state level.

“Parent members guide the work of the coalition based on their needs, wants, strengths and desires” Haltiner said. “Our early childhood community partners have also played a major role in the recruitment of parents to the coalition.”

In Gladwin County, Cote said the group worked with local organizations to share information. “We said we’d pass out fliers for them at our meetings and asked if they’d pass out our fliers at their meetings,” she said.

While there is a Parent Coalition in each county, DuBois pointed out that the work to expand parent membership is a team effort. Families from either county can attend one meeting or the other – or both.

Evidence of the work to grow membership was in full view during the 2011 Star Power Event in Lansing when Clare-Gladwin had 107 participants; enough to fill 2 buses.

Crystal Hayes has been a member of the Gladwin Parent Coalition for less than a year. She said she learned about the Parent Coalition from her sister-in-law.

“She told me it was a great way to get involved in the community and to know what’s going on with kids,” Hayes said.

Hayes was one of the new members in attendance at this year’s Star Power. She brought her three-year-old son, Dubby.

“I had never been to anything like Star Power. I didn’t know that you could go to Lansing to meet and talk with legislators,” Hayes said. “It was amazing.”

Cote said State Rep., Joel Johnson (R- Clare-Gladwin) is close to many families in the community and the Senator was happy to speak with those in attendance at Star Power. “It helped for a lot of first-timers going to Lansing,” Cote said.

Attending Star Power and being a member of the Clare-Gladwin Parent Coalition has made a difference in the life of Crystal Hayes. “It’s opened my eyes to my community and to opportunities for my son,” she said. “I never thought I would consider putting my son in preschool before the age of 4, but I’m thinking differently about that now.”

She’s enjoying getting to know other parents in her community and she’s interested in advocating for programs for children.

“I’m a little worried about the federal budget,” Hayes said. “I’m concerned about the possibility of cuts to early childhood programs and I’m learning.”

DuBois said she’s very proud of the Clare Gladwin Parent Coalitions.

“Our goal for 2011 was to have 10 core members,” DuBois said. “Parents actively involved in the coalition, actively involved in community workgroups, a strong membership. We exceeded that goal by June.”




After the grand success of by PS 5 (not verified)