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First 5 Presents “Leading Ladies” for School Readiness

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By Marti Taylor

Members of the California Association of Ministers‚ Wives and Widows are spreading the good word of early childhood development through a partnership with First 5 California.

The two groups joined forces to create Leading Ladies for School Readiness, a statewide campaign specifically targeting African-Americans.

Established in 1999, First 5 focuses on early development of children ages 0 to five, based on studies that indicate children function better when exposed to positive emotional, physical and intellectual reinforcement during those years. Since its inception, First 5 has provided youngsters and their families with a range of  health and early learning services.

But with the African-American community suffering from the highest infant mortality rate in the state and only 37 percent of its children enrolled in preschool, First 5 representatives enlisted the help of the Black church to spread the message about the importance of school readiness to African-American families.

L To R Patricia Calloway of Refreshing Springs Community Church, Brenda Davis of Refreshing Springs Church, Regina Hamilton of Refreshing Springs Community Church, Miriam Fredrick of Eagles Wings Christian Church, Patricia Wiggins of Eagles Wings Christian Church, Rhonda Ellison of Kansas Ave SDA, and Gladys Coward of Eagles Wings Christian Church.
The Leading Ladies' mission is to supply African-American parents and caregivers with the necessary tools.

"More and more African-American children are entering preschool unprepared," said Monique Brackett, Assistant Account Executive for BaumanCurry, in charge of African-American outreach for First 5 California. "It's about nurturing--reading to them out loud, having them hold crayons--not just letting them sit in front of the T.V. and watch Sesame Street."

Using African-American churches to disseminate that information to Black communities was a natural choice according to Mrs. Brackett.

"The African American community has always looked to faith leaders for guidance and advice when others rely on family members or politicians," said Mrs. Brackett. "In the Black community, pastors are considered a trusted source of information."

The organization is sending the message using methods such as advertising in Black newspapers, making public service announcements, and sponsoring radio gospel shows.

Although Leading Ladies is faith-based, Mrs. Brackett said one doesn't have to be affiliated with a church in order to benefit from the program.

"We'll be holding seminars and they'll be either in churches or community centers, but they're open to everyone," said Mrs. Brackett. "Our goal is to teach the African-American community about early childhood healthcare and education, benefits beyond the walls of the church."

The statewide campaign was launched in February after two years of collaboration between the church leaders and First 5.

During that time, the team created the Outreach Tool Kit equipped to assist Leading Ladies in their outreach efforts.

"The kit is a comprehensive guide to help members be strong school readiness advocates," said Mrs. Brackett. "It has talking points to assist us in hosting school readiness seminars, teaches us how to organize community forums, has answers to frequently asked questions, and is a resource for church and media outreach information."

The tool kit also comes with a CD-ROM with helpful tips for parents, including a list of websites for different services, that can be downloaded, printed and distributed.

The organization will be holding a parents workshop Wednesday, May 9  from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the San Bernardino First 5 office, 330 N. D Street, fifth floor.

A Leading Ladies workshop will take place Friday, May 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the First 5 Riverside office, 2002 Iowa Ave., Suite 100.

Lunch will be served at both events and are free and open to the public.

For more information about Leading Ladies for School Readiness, visit the California Association of Ministers‚ Wives and Widows' website at info@leadingladiesforschoolreadiness.com or call (866) 305-4813 or contact Mrs. Brackett at (323) 525-0559 ext. 237.

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