Celebrating Ten Years of Lighting Pathways to Early Literacy

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On the first Saturday of November, we were thrilled to gather at the Alice Aycock Poe Center for Health Education for an intimate tenth anniversary celebration of children, their families, and their many helpers from across our state. The carnival-themed celebration was filled with fun for everyone and focused on celebrating our story and growth in working on behalf of North Carolina children, families, and economic prosperity. 

As North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) Executive Director, Muffy Grant, opened the event, she emphasized, “It was important to us that this event was child-centered, especially since it’s sometimes hard to show that in our work as policy and communications folks. NCECF completes its first decade and is shining a light into the next. We have a new strategic plan debuting soon, that will more deeply showcase Pathways as our organizing principle.” 

Pictured: NCECF Executive Director Muffy Speaking, with Board Chair Patti Gillenwater looking on, Photo: Lindsay K. Saunders

We were honored to have state level NC elected and appointed officials, who are invested in early childhood education to prioritize that vital period of brain development; founding, past, and present organization board members; our collaborative organizational partners from every corner of the state; and Family Forward NC Certified Employers, such as Book Harvest and Unity Web Agency, were in attendance. 

Patti Gillenwater, who is the outgoing Chair of NCECF’s Board and has served on the board since 2014, introduced our keynote speaker, Secretary of Commerce, Machelle Baker Sanders. Sanders has been in this role for nearly three years, enlisting her experience as a former Administrative Secretary, strong background as a business leader and extensive knowledge of what it takes to build a globally competitive workforce. Her bold and purposeful leadership aims to ensure North Carolina’s diverse state is an inclusive one that works for all people, including our young children and their families. 

Pictured: Audience at NCECF event, Photo: Lindsay K. Saunders

As the Secretary took the mic, the audience could hear children playing in the next room. “The sound of vibrancy and vitality from the children, who are the future of our state, is why we are here today. We are lighting a path for children and families and children today to foster and lead to positive outcomes,” said Sanders. “From cradle to career, we want all of North Carolina to have a strong, safe start to life with opportunities to learn and thrive, despite the disparities that come with zip codes.” 

Pictured: NC Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders, Photo: Azy Foley

Sanders noted the significance of NCECF’s Family Forward NC initiative in being “critical to the goals for our state” and how “child care is a liaison as a triple play for children to learn, parents to go to work, and business to have employees present, but we are failing North Carolina by not investing in the ‘workforce behind the workforce’.” 

In addition to Secretary Sanders, we were fortunate to have Representative Julie von Haefen present, along with NCECF co-founder Tracy Zimmerman, and former colleagues Mandy Ableidinger and Mary Mathew. 

Pictured: Co-Founder and former Executive Director of NCECF, Tracy Zimmerman, reflecting on the organization’s growth and impact. Photo: Azy Foley

Some of our notable accomplishments over the past decade include:

  • Launching the First 2000 Days campaign to build bipartisan support for investments in children’s early learning by positioning early childhood as an issue that impacts all North Carolinians, engaging unexpected voices as messengers, and creating community influencers that support early learning
  • Polling and sharing data on the importance and need for high quality, affordable, accessible NC child care
  • Launching the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Map and Data Dashboard
  • NCECF named to lead the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in North Carolina, which is now made up of 13 diverse communities across the state
  • Supporting NC communities in pursuing local investments for early childhood
  • Igniting the innovative Family Forward NC initiative which has not only engaged numerous employers across the state to become more family-friendly, thus boosting NC’s economic and family success, but also trained and licensed in- and out-of-state employers of best practices

Engaging Literary Entertainment

Concluding our program of formal remarks, the audience was entertained by an engaging performance from Linda Gorham, a nationally known, award-winning speaker and storyteller who has been telling stories for over twenty-five years. 

Gorham is a contributor to Telling Stories to Children, published by the National Storytelling Network, and co-author of Quality Angles, a book that explores excellence in the workplace. Her children’s CD, Common Sense and Uncommon Fun, has won four National Awards including Parents’ Choice and she has been the recipient of recognitions such as the Distinguished National Service Award from the National Storytelling Network as well as the Linda Jenkins Brown Nia Award for Service from the National Association of Black Storytellers.

Pictured: Linda Gorham and children attendees during storytelling performance; Photo: Lisa Finaldi

Children, staff, and event attendees were excited to have the opportunity to participate in the storytelling performance, as well, before children drew the names of the raffle winners. 

We appreciate the many generous organizations and individuals who sponsored our fundraiser event, in honor of the tenth anniversary of NCECF to help us keep moving forward:

Promotor Sponsors

  • ChildTrust Foundation
  • Kaplan Early Learning Company
  • RTI International

Spearheader Sponsors

  • Black Child Development Institute-Carolinas (BCDI-Carolinas)
  • Duke Energy Foundation
  • NC Child
  • Research Triangle Park Foundation

Advancer Sponsors

  • EducationNC
  • Elinvar Leadership Solutions
  • Johnston County Partnership for Children
  • Lakeshore Learning
  • NC State University Institute of Emerging Issues
  • Paradox Consulting Partners
  • Performentor LLC
  • Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina
  • Partnership for Children & Families (Moore County), a Partner in the Smart Start Network
  • Self-Help Credit Union
  • Smart Start, the North Carolina Partnership for Children
  • Dr. Nina Smith, individual
  • Dr. Marian F. Earls, individual
  • Sherry Franklin, individual
  • Harold Sellars, individual
  • Peggy Wang, individual
  • Dan Gerlach, individual

Keep in Touch with NCECF and Support Our Work

Please be sure to subscribe to our biweekly newsletter and consider making a donation today to continue a strong 2023 by helping us transform the lives of North Carolina families, from their earliest days, while also supporting a small growing, family-friendly team. 

The NC Early Childhood Foundation is driven by a bold – and achievable – vision: Each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. We build understanding, lead collaboration, and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade.