Sanilac Great Start Parent Coalition Helping Kids Help Kids

By Brenda Brissette-Mata

LEXINGTON TOWNSHIP -- It isn’t unusual for members of the Great Start Parent Coalition (GSPC) in Sanilac County to bring children to meetings. After all, child care services are provided.

But what members didn’t expect was that some of the children would be as encouraged about advocating for early childhood as their parents.

Tyler and Caitlyn Dillon, ages 12 and 10, often accompany their mother, Carol Dillon, to GSPC meetings.

“They usually sit in the back, doing their own thing,” their mother said.

But after attending a few meetings Dillon noticed they were listening to the discussions.

“Tyler would sometimes sit up closer to me,” she said. “He was paying attention.”

Soon, the kids were asking questions about what they heard, and while not every topic appealed to them, one in particular did – making sure that every child in Michigan has a great start.

“I like what they say about helping kids get a great start,” Tyler said. “Little kids should have a great start.”

It wasn’t long before interest sparked action. The children began helping with events, including an appearance by coalition members at Sanilac County’s Thumb Festival, where they helped spread the word about the group.

That experience, in turn, gave Tyler an idea: “I thought this could be a kid’s coalition, too.”

Nina Barnett, parent liaison for the Sanilac Great Start Parent Coalition, liked the idea so much she sat down with Tyler and Caitlyn and came up with a motto – Kids Helping Kids – and a list of ways they could get involved.

Caitlyn’s first job, for instance, was to help entertain other children traveling with parent coalition members on a bus trip to Lansing for the annual Star Power event in May. She printed out sheets with activities, brought art supplies and had the kids on the bus singing during the trip.

Dillon said her daughter loved both the trip and the Star Power event.

“I got to meet John Espinoza!” Caitlyn said with a kind of enthusiasm most 10-year old girls reserve for pop stars. Her mother smiled as Caitlin described meeting the 83rd District state representative. “She really was impressed,” Dillon said.

Her children, she says, seem to grasp how important the work of the parent coalitions is.

“They hear me talking about it all the time. We need to make sure everybody understands how important early childhood is, how important brain development is for kids 0 to 5. Too many parents don’t know. They do what they can to provide for their children but they don’t realize this is a prime learning period. We have to educate everybody.”

Dillon believes that watching her involvement in the GSPC has sparked her children’s civic involvement, as well.

Caitlyn used to be shy, but has come into a new kind of strength, even running for student council. She didn’t win, said her mom, but she’s going to try again.

“She’s really surprised me,” Dillon said.

Tyler, meanwhile, went to his school to ask for permission to recruit other student volunteers to help with GSPC activities.

“Doing something for other people is great,” Tyler said. “It gives you a good feeling.”

Thank you for your by Paul Johnson (not verified)