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Kelly Marion first came to the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center when she was 11 years old. Her father had just passed away. He had been the victim of a violent crime. And Marion’s mother wanted Marion and her siblings to stay engaged with the community – and the world.
Today, Marion is the CEO of the community center, where she has worked for over 30 years. The center currently serves 2,500 families in and around the Western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield, in Berkshire County.
“The majority of our families are socio-economically challenged,” Marion says. “We have a lot of single-parent households and grandparents raising their grandchildren.”
The center has a number of programs that support children, all the way from birth to age 13, including child care programs and an array of programming for middle and high school students. Once they’re old enough, many of these children are hired as center staff.
Thanks to her work, Marion is a seasoned advocate. So for her, joining Strategies for Children’s Advocacy Network was a chance to connect with other early educators from across the state — and share a vital message.
“I don’t think people see how important early childhood education is, and how important high-quality early education is,” Marion says.
“Our educators need more; they deserve more. And our children need more; they deserve more. The first years of life are the most critical years of life. And if we don’t do our job in early childhood education, then we’re going to have a negative impact on the future of our children. We want our kids to go to kindergarten as prepared as they can be.”
“The more I can teach others about the needs of early childhood and out-of-school-time programming, the better for these fields overall.”
Marion is taking action now. Her community center focuses on providing high-quality programs for children and high-quality professional development and educational opportunities for staff.
Marion’s Advocacy Network project was providing Advocacy 101 training to 30 of her staff members.
“I taught them how to advocate, whom to advocate to, and what language to use. We talked about their “why,” Why are you doing this work?”
Staff members –both young and old as well as new and experienced — all shared their motivations.
“It’s really great for the entire group to understand where each person in the center is coming from, what their purpose is, and what their mission is; whether this job is a steppingstone to somewhere else or if people are committed to remain in this field.”
Whether center staff go on to become doctors, public school teachers, or early educators, their commitment to high-quality early childhood programs can help guide their professional impact and future advocacy.
A key goal for Marion: “I want to make sure that everyone has their elevator pitch about what they do and why it’s so important.”
Marion draws on an approach that she learned from Amy O’Leary, the executive director of Strategies for Children: Always know what three points you want to make when you’re talking – whether it’s talking to a newspaper reporter or on a radio show or to a room full of staffers.
“Why is this work important? I want to make sure that our staff have an answer that’s based on their own knowledge that they are doing something valuable, so they can talk to a school committee member or to the mayor or to a funder.”
Another point that Marion makes about the Advocacy Network:
“Together, we are a much stronger force for change than we are alone. It’s better to have more voices reaching out to the Legislature, and more voices reaching out to colleges, saying, These are the classes we need; This is the funding we need.
“There’s such a range in Massachusetts of educators and professionals who are working for the greater good of the field, and it’s been so powerful for me to meet all of them.”
Ask Marion where her stamina comes from, and her first answer is from the early education field. During the pandemic, her staff stepped up to support children and families, shrugging off fear and wielding creativity and compassion.
Marion’s second answer: “There are always going to be children. New babies are born every day, and we want to make sure that they can have the best start possible.”