Van Buren GSC goes virtual to continue educational outreach

By Brenda Brissette Mata

LAWRENCE - All aboard! That was the call issued by the Van Buren Great Start this summer as it continued its ongoing educational outreach.

The group held a “virtual bus tour” for local leaders and candidates to help them understand the needs of local children 0-5 and how those needs are being addressed.

The tour was held at the Van Buren Intermediate School District conference center in Lawrence, and more than 70 people attended, including nine state legislative candidates.

Margie Murphy, director of the Van Buren GSC, said real bus tours had been held in neighboring counties - Berrien and Cass - but since several early childhood programs are closed during the summer, Van Buren decided to hold a “virtual” bus tour instead, featuring a 20-minute slide show.

“It was a three part program,” Murphy said. “First, candidates and the public could come on our ‘virtual’ tour and see what Van Buren has to offer and second, at the same time, the candidates were provided an opportunity to respond to the public and give a little bit of information about their views on early childhood. Third was a social hour where candidates, parents and community members could just talk and ask questions.”

Murphy, involved in early childhood for more than 30 years, said it is imperative that legislators and leaders in the community become aware of the importance of early childhood.

“The early years in the life of a child are absolutely critical,” she said. “I’m delighted to be part of Great Start, to work to make what we do have, sustainable. Seems like we take a few steps ahead with great programs and projects and then funds get cut. I think this systematic, organized approach to changing the status of early childhood statewide is finally going to elevate it to the level of concern that it needs to be, in order for us to have a long-term, long-range support, not only from legislators but from the community at large so that our efforts don’t keep waxing and waning with funding opportunities.”

At the event, the Van Buren GSC had a large map of Michigan with photos of the candidates indicating which district they represented. There also was a voter registration table and each candidate was allowed a table for promotional items.

To encourage parents to attend with their children, the GSC included dinner and child care.

The tour used photos gathered from directors of area programs, including Tri-County Head Start, Community Mental Health, Child Care Resources, Intercare, Telemon, Van Buren Public Health and Early On. Members of both the GSC and Great Start Parent Coalition narrated part of the program.

Murphy said she was surprised at the number of candidates who attended since the bus tour followed closely on the heels of another event to which candidates had been invited.

“But more attended this event, than the first,” she said.

The event was also a hit with parents who reported positive feedback and enjoyed personal conversations with the candidates.
“Candidates, parents, community members, everybody walked away more informed than when they arrived,” Murphy said.