ECC Policy Agenda Shaped by Lived Experience

ECC Policy Agenda Shaped by Lived Experience

Zakkiyya Ibrahim had been running a 5-star rated child care program in her rental home for three years when she received sudden notice last May, from her landlord, that she would need to close her business within fourteen days or receive an eviction notice. Zakkiyya could not shut down her business in two weeks; not only did her own family depend on the income, she also did not want to disrupt child care for the parents who were relying on it so they could work.

Zakkiyya was fortunate. She was able to negotiate an extension with her landlord, and ultimately, she and her husband bought a home and now operate the business in this new location. But many in-home child care providers in Oregon are not able to seamlessly move from renting to owning property.

“It’s challenging, because there are so many write-offs for a child care business,” Zakkiyya says. “Your income looks really low. That makes it hard to buy a property because you won’t qualify for many loans.”

Finding another rental is difficult as well. Not every rental property meets licensing requirements, and when they do, there is no guarantee that a landlord will be willing to rent to a prospective tenant who intends to run a licensed child care business in the home, even if the business owner carries insurance and has no history of injuries, damages, or other issues.

As a child care provider and the owner of Education Explorers, Zakkiyya has been a participant in Oregon’s Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) since last spring, and told her story in meetings and conversations establishing priorities for the 2021 legislative session. These conversations led to the proposal for House Bill 2484, co-sponsored by AFSCME and Children’s Institute, which asserts that fair and reasonable protections for renters are one piece of expanding child care access and opportunities for culturally specific child care settings, helping to meet a critical need in Oregon.

The ECC’s 2021 Legislative Agenda is centered on community-driven policy proposals like this one, and has been guided by the experiences of Black and Indigenous families, families of color, and families and providers historically excluded from policy and budget decisions. This shift toward inclusive policy-making is a crucial step for implementing comprehensive change needed to build an early childhood system which addresses generations of exclusion and discrimination.

According to Dana Hepper, who convenes the ECC as Children’s Institute’s director of policy and advocacy, “Zakkiyya’s contributions to our work this session have been huge. The items on this agenda were truly shaped by her story and her expertise, as well as the expertise of other participants in the ECC who can offer a deep understanding of the kinds of change we need to see in order to create an early childhood system that really works for people.”

Early Works at Earl Boyles

Early Works at Earl Boyles

Kids begin learning before they’re even born. By the time children start kindergarten, their brains are already 90 percent developed. Children’s Institute believes our education system can do more for kids during this critical period of development. Neighborhood schools can serve children long before they enter kindergarten and provide meaningful support to parents and families before and during elementary school.

Our Early Works initiative demonstrates what happens when school districts, community partners, parents, and funders come together with a shared vision to support the early learning and healthy development of young children: Kids arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, parents feel welcome at the school and empowered to support their children’s learning, and the school community flourishes. 

Read and download the report.


Transforming Schools: Community Health Workers in Action

Transforming Schools: Community Health Workers in Action

While community health work is a growing profession, most such workers are not working in an educational setting full-time, nor is there a well-established pathway to placing a CHW in a school, in Oregon or nationally. The process of establishing a full-time CHW and volunteer team of community ambassadors at Earl Boyles Elementary has spanned a number of years and demanded innovation. And while the program has been a success, its future is still precarious.

The purpose of this report is to demonstrate the significant power of such a program, as well as the challenges, learnings, and emerging best practices around it.

Read and download the report.


Children’s Institute Annual Fundraiser Breaks Records to Impact Oregon’s Future

Children’s Institute Annual Fundraiser Breaks Records to Impact Oregon’s Future

“Impact Oregon’s Future,” our annual fundraiser held on October 20, had a great turnout and raised more than $265,000 for Children’s Institute. This event, emceed by CI’s Senior Early Education Advisor Soobin Oh, highlighted our work across Oregon to increase access to and strengthen critical early childhood programs and services, including preschool,  home visiting, child care, and many others.

“We are so grateful for these contributions from our supporters,” said Swati Adarkar, CI’s President and CEO. “Every dollar helps us continue the work we’ve been doing for more than sixteen years, connecting young children across Oregon to vital programs and services that support their healthy development and early school success.”

Children’s Institute honored one of Oregon’s dedicated business and community leaders and long-time CI board member, Ken Thrasher, with the Alexander Award at the event. This award, named for Richard C. “Dick” Alexander, recognizes those who are committed to improving the lives of Oregon children with a focus on early childhood, and honors Dick Alexander’s advocacy for children as one of Oregon’s foremost business and civic leaders.

“Ken truly embodies the spirit of the Alexander Award,” Adarkar said. “His commitment to children and families has been exemplary and he has had an extraordinary imprint on advancing Oregon’s early childhood agenda. Ken’s deep, long-standing passion is to make a big difference for children and families in Oregon, and he has. I was thrilled to celebrate him.”

Others who added their gratitude and thanks for Ken’s service and commitment to Oregon’s children during the event included Governor Kate Brown; Martha Richards, Executive Director of the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation; philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer; and Beaverton School District Superintendent Don Grotting.

Notable projects highlighted during the event included CI’s Early Works Initiative, with sites in Yoncalla and SE Portland. Early Works schools, located in districts where children face multiple barriers that have historically resulted in achievement and opportunity gaps, connect with families before children reach kindergarten. Programs include playgroups for parents with infants and toddlers, parent education and adult learning opportunities, public preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, housing advocates, and a community health worker that can connect children and families to much needed health and community services.

CI’s Early School Success program, also highlighted in the event, launched in 2019 and expands upon what we’ve learned through Early Works. Early School Success partners with school districts to connect the early years and early grades. The Children’s Institute team provides consultation, professional development, and coaching to support the use of developmentally appropriate teaching strategies for preschool through fifth grade.

What CI learns from its program work informs advocacy efforts at the state level for public policy that supports high-quality care and education for children from the earliest ages. Important recent policy wins celebrated during the Impact Oregon’s Future event include the passage of the 2019 Student Success Act, an historic investment in Oregon’s children, providing $200 million each year to programs specifically serving the state’s youngest learners.

“It’s really incredible to witness the growth of the movement to support Oregon’s children. Strategic investment in our youngest Oregonians is a sure way to impact our state now and into the future. We’re pleased and grateful that so many people, parents, leaders, and community partners see the value of the work we do and have donated critical resources to fuel our work forward,” said Adarkar.

Sponsors for the event included presenting sponsors Cindy and Duncan Campbell as well as corporate sponsors The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Stoel Rives LLP, Columbia Bank, Portland State University, NWEA, Education Northwest, NW Natural, Cambia Health Solutions, Pacific West Bank, Pacific Power, and Vernier Software & Technology.

Arlene Schnitzer: A Generous and Fearless Advocate for Children

Arlene Schnitzer: A Generous and Fearless Advocate for Children

Notable Oregon philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer, who passed away on April 4, 2020 at the age of 91, was perhaps best known for her lifetime of support for the arts. Arlene’s commitment to women’s health and children’s issues may be less recognized among the broader public, but at Children’s Institute, we are very aware of, and grateful for, this thread in her giving.

Gary Withers, Children’s Institute’s first president, co-founder, and long-time board member, worked with Arlene on many projects. “When CI was in its earliest stages, we had a meeting with Arlene to tell her about the project and ask for her support. And Arlene said, ‘Well, let’s just add up how much we’ve given annually and recently to causes related to children.’ And of course at that time, Harold and Arlene were well known for their support for OHSU and the arts. But we were adding up their contributions to causes just related to kids, and I’m not sure whether it was over one year or two or three years, but it was millions! And I sat there and I thought, Well this is the story that nobody knows.”

Arlene became a founding member of the Children’s Institute board, helping to shape the vision for work that improved the lives of many Oregon children and families. According to Withers, Arlene chose this work because “She loved the concept that if we invest in early childhood, that we would be able to avoid a lot of the downstream challenges that children face, particularly children with high adverse childhood experience scores. She was a believer in the power of mitigation that is inherent in great early childhood programming.”

CI’s Early Works initiative in particular meant a great deal to Arlene, as she knew it made a tangible difference for families. “She and Harold spent time visiting national models, but were committed to an approach that would engage with public schools and meet the specific needs of Oregon children,” recalls Adarkar.  

“Arlene and Harold had a really strong bond to this community,” says Barbara Hall, who worked with Arlene for 36 years, eventually becoming the executive director of The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation. “They were true Portlanders. They were both from immigrant families that came from Russia, and I think they were interesting because they were not raised with great wealth. They really earned that wealth, and they felt very strongly that this community was what allowed them to flourish. So they gave to every nonprofit in the city that they felt helped make the city a better place to live.”

Arlene was interested in improving quality of life, and she liked to be able to see the results. She felt that improving the lives of families was one of the surest ways to strengthen the community she felt so connected to. Her giving was pragmatic; she asked, “What project would have a direct impact on my neighbors?” and then she chose a leader she believed in, whose work was solving the problems she saw as important.  

Swati Adarkar, president and CEO of Children’s Institute, was one of those leaders, and enjoyed a special relationship with Arlene. “When we started CI,” Adarkar says, “I had no plan to become the executive director. I’d envisioned partnership, rather than a CEO. I had two young kids at the time. Arlene believed in mentoring and encouraging women to take leadership roles and helped build my confidence, because she was such a strong and fearless leader. I watched how she would pick her moments to strategically express her point of view and how effectively she could persuade those around her to be bolder and more courageous.” 

“Arlene put a lot of faith in Swati,” says Hall. “She really felt like CI’s work was the first thing Swati thought of when she woke up in the morning, and she probably noodled it until she fell asleep at night—what she wanted to do to make a difference, using Children’s Institute as the vehicle to help make that happen.”

Withers agrees. “Arlene had a level of trust and confidence in Swati and the mission and vision of Children’s Institute that allowed her to remain a very long-term investor even as the issues that Arlene faced with her health, and the complexity of the issues being addressed by Children’s Institute, began to eclipse what she could attend to personally.”

Adarkar deeply appreciates the trust. “Arlene was the kind of rare supporter who identified the issues she cared about and the people she trusted to move the work forward. She empowered me and the rest of CI staff to do what we knew needed to be done.”  

Generosity and the spirit of community will be such an important part of Arlene’s legacy. “As a philanthropist and as a person,” says Hall, “Arlene never met a problem that she didn’t want to try and help fix. Never. And I love that about her. She always had room for one more thing on her plate. That was probably what I loved about her the most. She was never numb to anything.”  

Withers echoed this sentiment: “Arlene had a way of making friends for life. It was her authenticity, and her integrity, and her candor. The word ‘philanthropy’ means love of humankind, and she had this huge heart that just really loved people.” 

At Children’s Institute, we hope our ongoing work is an expression of our gratitude to Arlene for her role in the development and health of our organization. We will miss her humor, warmth, sharp instincts, and commitment to making our state a more vibrant and healthy place to be a child.

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