Washtenaw parent coalition keeps on truckin’ with annual truck event for early childhood

By Brenda Brissette Mata

ANN ARBOR -- The Washtenaw County Great Start Parent Coalition (WCGSPC) has found an innovative and fun way to reach parents with key information about early childhood.

Trucks.

Each spring, the coalition hosts a “Touch a Truck” event at Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor. The trucks – construction equipment, emergency vehicles and more – attract the kids. Coalition members, then, provide mom and dad with information about early childhood.

This year, the event drew 1,500 families, according to Donna Lasinski, liaison for the WCGSPC.

It was successful for the coalition, but also for the mall, which won an award at a national mall conference for “best community event.”

Award voters liked the fact that the mall is a busing hub and therefore accessible to the maximum number of people. That accessibility is, in fact, a major reason the coalition holds “Touch a Truck” at Briarwood, according to Lasinski.

“We could hold the event at a location that didn’t charge us rent, but it’s important to be at a place where families can gain easy access.”

The event is both a fun family outing and an important outreach and education opportunity for the coalition.

“We want people to know that the first few years of a child’s life make all the difference,” Lasinski said. “Those first few years can impact that rest of a child’s life. It’s important that everybody, from legislators to business leaders to families, understand that.”

At each vehicle this year there was a tent and table with representatives of various early childhood organizations. For instance, First Steps was posted next to a sheriff’s patrol car while Perry Nursery School set up shop next to an Urban Foresters bucket truck.

Lasinski said parents are given the opportunity to sign a letter in support of early childhood to their state representative. Each year, the coalition collects hundreds of such letters and sends them onto lawmakers.

“What’s really important for us,” Lasinski said, “is that our agencies are making contact with families that hadn’t even known these services were available for them. It becomes a networking event for the agencies.”

Lasinski said the WCGSC is proud of the promotion that makes the event successful. Before school gets out, the organization sees to it that every local public school district and child care agency has invitations to send home with every child.

Organizing the event, she said, is a collaborative effort in conjunction with the Washtenaw Great Start Collaborative, headed by Melissa Pinsky.

Lasinski said the event would not be a success without Pinsky’s leadership and GSC parent members, who volunteer their time and talents.