News & Events

Monday, April 29, 2013

Laurie Dozier: Whole Child Leon is a Tallahassee success story

Tallahassee Democrat

By: Laurie Dozier, III

The Shelter ... suffering oyster beds ... Boston ... disappointing news abounds. But so, too, does good news.

Let me share with you one of our community’s special attributes, right up there with being known for the cleanest energy and the finest parks and recreation: Whole Child Leon.

Nine years ago, Whole Child was the answer to the United Way of the Big Bend’s challenge to our community to figure out how best to address the root causes of the expanding social needs that we must continually fund. The previous year’s study had concluded that preparing our children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed was the single greatest investment we could undertake. Whole Child’s immediate vision became, “Imagine a community where everyone works together in order that our children 0-5 may thrive.”

Today Whole Child is the overarching coordinator and advocate of the services available to help our children be physically, spiritually, socially and emotionally healthy. Study after study has demonstrated that investments made in serving children 0-5 will return significant savings to future taxpayer-supported services. President Obama made mention of this fact in his recent State of the Union address, and Mimi Graham made the same compelling argument in a recent My View in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Multifaceted, Whole Child’s minimal staff is communications central for more than 60 agencies serving children and families and promotes community initiatives while maintaining the Whole Child Connection website, which matches those with needs to service providers. Additionally, the staff helps coordinate multitudes of volunteers for initiatives, such as the community wide developmental screenings that have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in free critical services, promoting the nationally important 95210 initiative that Executive Director Courtney Atkins branded locally and introduced to early learning centers and families with young children, and the Spiritual Foundation and Strength Action Team’s wonderfully uplifting CD that goes home with newborns. (These age-appropriate selections were “donated” by local musicians and locally produced by Pete Winter.)

It is important to understand that Whole Child is not just for those among us who are most often thought of as less affluent and in need of social services; Whole Child is for every beginning family.

As we have moved from imagining a community where everyone works together in order that our children may thrive to building that community, we are adding to that list of assets that make us special. As a strong advocate of investing in our community through the sales tax initiatives that support our schools and infrastructure projects, I can’t stop thinking of how little it costs to run Whole Child versus the hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax projects, and I wonder if Whole Child should be sustained by one of these initiatives. (Whole Child was embraced early on by the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce as a tool in advancing our region’s quality of life and attracting economic development, and family-friendly business practice has become a recognized asset when ranking nominees for the coveted Chamber awards.)

“Partners” of Whole Child include the Leon County School Board, which has provided offices and continuing guidance, the city and county commissions, the United Way, the Tallahassee Democrat, WCTV, the Lawton Chiles Foundation and, most significantly, the entire provider network where services are delivered every day.

Among the 16 members of the Steering Committee are chair Angel Trejo, founding chair Loranne Ausley, County Commissioner Kristin Dozier, the Democrat’s Bob Gabordi, WCTV’s Shonda Knight, business leaders Tracey Cohen and Brooke Hallock, infant advocate Dr. Ed Holifield and parent advocate Holly McPhail.

As excited as I am about Whole Child’s positive impact, I believe there is so much more our community could do to better prepare our children to enter school. So, as Whole Child Leon transitions to an independent 501(c)3, I ask that you refresh your knowledge by visiting wholechildleon.org, that you become an ambassador by thanking our local elected officials for their continued support and by being an advocate and that you encourage your places of business and fellowship to help all our children thrive.

Most importantly, urge anyone you know who is considering pregnancy, is pregnant or has a child under 5 to take advantage of one of our great community assets — Whole Child Leon.

Good news indeed.

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