Here’s an update on two of our Advocacy Network participants.

Stay tuned for more Advocacy Network updates in the coming weeks.

Gloria Valentin head shot
Gloria Valentin

Send Gloria Valentin an email that mentions a family challenge you have to deal with, as I did, and the email you receive back will be a small, electronic packet of sunshine and reassurance.

“I have an optimistic personality,” Valentin says. “I want to bring joy in times when everything is so daunting. I have days, trust me, when I’m like, I’m not feeling it today. But I have that energy and that outlook of just being positive and not allowing things I can’t control to take over my life.”

Valentin has been a family child care provider for 22 years, but she talks about her work as if she just started last month, and she’s got a dozen new things she wants to do.

She began her career as an early educator at a center-based program, then opened up her own business. Today, she’s also involved in advocacy, and she has participated in Strategies for Children’s Speakers Bureau and our Advocacy Network

“The time that we spent together each week, was a time for us to find our voices, to practice public speaking, and to move forward as advocates,” Valentin says of her experience in the Advocacy Network, where she drew inspiration from other advocates who spoke about forming relationships with elected officials and following up with them.

“That really stood out for me, making those connections and being proud of the work I do and sharing it. Family child care is a hidden gem. 

“But the work can be isolating, so I want to make connections and let people in government know that we’re here and that our work is so important. We should be included in conversations about quality child care programs and financial accessibility.”

For her Advocacy Network project, Valentin has organized a small group of family child care providers who are people of color. The group meets monthly and shares information about things like grants and unemployment insurance. They discuss their work with families and the challenges of running a small business. If one person has a problem, they can jump on Facetime and discuss it with another group member. Valentin hopes to grow the group in the fall.

And given that early educators have a habit of taking care of everyone except themselves, Valentin and her group also take time to talk about wellness and self care.

Ask Valentin what she wants policymakers to know about her work, and she says:

“We are working to raise citizens who are going to be part of our communities, so we have an important role in terms of helping babies and young children grow up and become part of the world. What we put into the lives of these children as educators is going to make a drastic difference.

“Children are like sponges, and I’m pouring into them as much as I can, so that they have a strong healthy start. That’s why the work of providing quality child care is so important, because we’re influencing these young humans to grow up and do great things in the world.”

Yolanda Ramos
Yolanda Ramos

Yolanda Ramos used to be a mental health provider.

“I provided services to children and to a lot of families who seemed lost when it came to asking for practical help,” she says. 

Families would ask her where to go for afterschool programs, how to find food pantries, and how to meet other basic needs.

Back then, Ramos didn’t know where to send them.

Today, she’s a consultant for Worcester’s Together for Kids Coalition, a collection of organizations working to weave a tapestry of answers for families.

“My job is planning and implementing an early childhood education and care system that works for all in the Worcester area,” Ramos says.

“We have many organizations working towards this goal, but they have been working separately. What we’re trying to do is create a mesh where everyone works together. So from the moment a mom finds out she’s having a baby, we can say, okay, You need a pediatrician. You need to think about getting on a child care wait list.”

What drew Ramos to Strategies for Children’s Advocacy Network was her desire to learn about what happens behind policymaking’s closed doors.

One key advocacy lesson: Amy O’Leary, Strategies’ executive director, said stop apologizing for talking too much.

“That stuck to me and from that moment on, I gained a sense of confidence that I did not have before,” Ramos says. “That really opened a lot of doors for me. I saw that people were listening to me. They weren’t shutting me down. They were interested in hearing more.”

Now Ramos is a member of LABO, the Latin American Business Organization. Her theory is that business leaders needed to hear about early education and care. So at meetings or on a local radio show, she talks about early childhood programs.

“People are paying more attention to early childhood care because of how much it’s affecting businesses and parents who are trying to go back to work. So I can really catch business owners’ attention.”

“LABO has never had anyone advocating for this, and I was like, Hey, if I can do it during Strategies for Children meetings, I can do it at other meetings,” Ramos says.

“When I go to LABO events, they ask me, Do you own a business? or What’s your business? And I say, Children are my business .”

For her Advocacy Network project, Ramos is training a group of parents to be advocates. They began meeting in November, and Ramos shares many of the things that she herself hadn’t known.

“I didn’t know I had a voice. I didn’t know that what I said mattered when it comes to my child’s care. I didn’t know about all these organizations like Common Start that are doing so much to help children. I didn’t know the people in my community who make the decisions about my life. I didn’t know the mayor. I didn’t know my city council members.”

Now Ramos knows, and so do the members of the parent group. Special guests have come to speak to them, including Mattie Castiel, Worcester’s commissioner of health and human services.

“Parents got to talk about their children’s mental health issues. They felt heard and validated, that someone who makes decisions is listening,” Ramos says.

Parents also discuss their own experiences, including personal challenges like postpartum depression.

“The good thing is that there were doctors and advocates who were listening and thinking about how they could change their use of words and their approach to be more sensitive.”

There is still much more to do.

“I think building resources and connecting parents to them is a never-ending job,” Ramos says. “There also needs to be more done to support the fields that provide services for children. And we need to pay attention to people who feel overlooked. As a parent myself, staying home with my kids during the pandemic, I realized my educators don’t get paid enough. They don’t get a lot of support. So I make it as my duty to constantly contact my children’s teacher and say, thank you. But I wish they had more support from day one.”