Volunteer spotlight: Women support women to impact early childhood education

Heather Storey’s daughter is in college and her son is a high school sophomore, but they still share stories about a special child care provider who made a major impact on their early years.

Heather, an engineer at DTE, recalls one occasion where an emergency required her to work late and she was unable to pick up her kids at the scheduled time.

“We’re not from the area so we didn’t have family available to help out,” Heather said. “This woman went above and beyond. She took my children for dinner and kept them until I could make it home.”

It’s those moments that motivate Heather to give back.

Through United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Women United group, she’s able to do just that.

child care provider with kids

As part of our efforts to help children thrive, United Way supports child care providers as they complete their Child Development Associate certification. The CDA increases the quality of the care the provide, and can increase their earnings.

A focus on early childhood

United Way aims to ensure that children are ready to learn and thrive. The process begins at birth. A child’s brain is mostly developed before kindergarten begins, so child care programs for preschoolers are critical. By providing funding and support to nonprofit early education partners like Leaps & Bounds Family Services, we help more caregivers earn their Child Development Associate certification and, as a result, increase the availability of high-quality child care for families in our region.

Women United is a network of United Way supporters who use philanthropy, advocacy and volunteerism to raise awareness about the importance of early childhood development. Beginning in 2019, the group began to focus its efforts on United Way’s initiative to support local child care providers while they work to complete the CDA certification program.

Heather and other Women United members have volunteered to provide personal and professional support to the men and women working to complete their CDA.

A rewarding and fun experience

To earn CDA certification, caregivers must complete four to five months of rigorous training. They learn how to nurture the emotional, physical, intellectual and social development of children.

“We worked with the team at Leaps & Bounds to determine where we could make the most impact,” said Courtney Ochalek, engagement and events specialist at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “We realized that what they really needed most was extra support and encouragement.”

To provide that support, United Way matched the 23 members of one cohort with a Women United volunteer. Following an initial face-to-face meeting at Leaps & Bounds, the pairs kept in touch through a private messaging app.

Each week, volunteers sent encouraging messages that aligned with the material the caregivers were studying at the time.

Heather’s team at DTE also created gift bags to assist the caregivers on their path to certification. The bags included books, flash drives and other support materials.

“The work they’re doing is really intense,” Heather said. “It’s fun to be able to send them a quick message that could motivate them to keep going and working toward a better future. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘you got this.’

“When you get a response thanking you and telling you about their progress, that’s a really rewarding feeling.”

volunteers with child care providers

In the fall of 2019, Women United volunteers began working with child care providers going through Child Development Associate certification. The volunteers provided support, encouragement and professional advice.

Moms empowering moms

Allyson Waldman, CFO at Roush Enterprises, also volunteered for the program. Both she and Heather described the initial meeting with caregivers as a powerful experience.

“It is so inspiring and humbling to hear their stories as to why they are involved in child care and want their CDAs,” Allyson said. “It helps emphasize why what we are doing to support their journey is so important.”

The result is a positive impact on the providers, as well as the families who need care.

Early childhood educators who obtain the CDA credential can earn more money. Additionally, facilities where care providers are certified can increase their quality rating from the State of Michigan. As a result, they can draw more parents due to their demonstrated success working with young children.

The number of caregivers who are also working moms inspired Heather.

“You realize that caregivers aren’t in it for the money, they’re in it because they love children and have a real passion for care.”

She added that the importance of access to quality care cannot be understated.

“When you’re a working mom, having access to quality child care is very, very key to your career success and to your children’s success,” Heather said. “You’re able to pursue your dreams because of them. They’re the key to everything.”

Doing more together

The next two CDA cohorts, which include a total of 36 care providers, will soon be underway. Many of the volunteers from the first group are returning to support their efforts.

“We’re really proud of the success we’ve had so far, and there’s so much room for growth,” Courtney said.

To learn more about United Way volunteer opportunities, visit our volunteer portal.

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