Sunday, March 22, 2015

Insight - Lobbying for young children - By Elizabeth Richards

One of the best things about the varied way I make a living is the constant opportunity to experience something new. Stretching my limits, taking on new challenges, and proving to myself that I can do things I never dreamed of doing, helps keep life fresh and interesting. 

This week, I had the chance to briefly enter an unfamiliar world - the world of national politics. As an early childhood educator, I have long been passionate about what our youngest learners need, and unafraid to voice those needs to people around me. Until this week, however, I have not used my voice to communicate this message to the people who sit in a position to make a difference in policy and funding issues.

A year ago, I joined the board of the Maine affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). In this role, I was given the opportunity to attend NAEYC's Public Policy Forum in Washington DC. After a two day crash course in how to effectively lobby for early childhood issues, I set off for Capitol Hill to meet with staff in the offices of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Senator Angus King, as well as with Senator Susan Collins and her staff member.

I was nervous. I had never before considered myself qualified to have these conversations with policymakers and their staff. I was sure I would freeze, or say something ridiculous, or not have any answer at all to questions asked. But as we discussed the process I realized something - if I don't step up and speak out about the issues that matter, how can I expect others to? And if others don't, how will people in a position to influence policy know about these issues at all? So, I took a deep breath, and a great partner, and off we went. 

I did not freeze, or say anything foolish. With each meeting, I felt more comfortable, more confident that I could effectively deliver my message. It's a message that matters, and this week, policy makers from Maine heard it. And I gained another skill that I will put to great use in the future, growing ever more confident in my ability to make a difference.

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