Profile: Lenawee County Great Start Parent Coaltion

By Brenda Brissette-Mata

ADRIAN – When Lisa Eack and Heather Perez became co- liaisons of the Lenawee County Great Start Parent Coalition in September, their first task, as they saw it, was to grow the organization.

The coalition formed a couple of years ago but was slow in gathering members, so the women decided they needed something extra to draw people to meetings.

That something extra turned out to be a simple half-hour activity for parents and children – from mask-making to learning about emotions through play – prior to regularly scheduled meetings.

“The response has been amazing,” says Eack. “Heather and I are very passionate about this. We really want to make this succeed. We struggled for so many months; we are very happy where we are now.”

After each activity, parents are asked to take part in a discussion about what early childhood issues they believe need to be addressed locally.

Eack said that not only is attendance at the meetings growing, but when the group was making plans in August to attend the inaugural Sandbox Party Convention at MSU’s Breslin Student Event Center, they had to charter four buses.

“We had 236 people come with us,” Eack said. “It was amazing.”

The activities each month are planned by Shannon Miller, an art therapist at the University of Michigan. Perez met Miller at a play group where she was speaking about Great Start.

“Shannon just sort of fell into our lap,” Eack said.

Miller not only became a parent volunteer, but she offered to plan activities and speakers for each monthly meeting through December.

In August, the owner of a local dance studio volunteered to demonstrate activities for the more than 30 parents and children attending the meeting.

“That was the largest meeting we held,” Eack said.

In September, the pre-meeting activity - making healthy snacks – attracted a reporter from LenConnect, the news website of the Daily Telegram in Adrian.

The story began this way:

In a classroom on the ground floor of Adrian’s St. Joseph Academy, a dozen or so parents — mostly moms, but a couple of dads as well — and their young children sit at tables with a colorful array of vegetables, cheese and tortillas on plates in front of them. “How many of us love to eat?” asks Awilda Dominguez, from the MSU Extension’s Family Nutrition Program. Almost everyone raises their hands.

“How many of you love to eat veggies?”

Fewer, but still a good number, of hands go up.

“Say yummy.”

“Yummy,” comes a chorus of little voices.

To read the rest, click here.

The extra attention garnered through the activities has paid off with more visitors to the Lenawee Great Start Collaborative’s website, as well.

Eack says she can feel the growing momentum and excitement about early childhood in Lenawee County, so much so that she and Perez are beginning to wonder if they might soon need a larger meeting place.

“But that’s a good worry,” Eack said.