On Wednesday, Feb. 25, Kansas Action for Children and the Partnership for Early Success hosted the first-ever Symposium for Early Success. More than 200 child advocates and policymakers were in attendance to hear from our keynote speaker, Dr. Vincent J. Felitti, a world-renowned physician and research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
We also presented four Awards for Early Success, honoring outstanding child advocates in Kansas, including health care providers, educators, business leaders and state officials.
We received many outstanding nominations from across the state. Our honorees stood out for their exemplary commitment to improving the lives of Kansas children.
Our “Child Advocate of the Year” in the government official category is Dr. Robert Moser. Dr. Moser was secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment from January 2011 to December 2014. During that time he undertook important work to improve outcomes for young Kansas children. Under his leadership, KDHE launched its first public awareness campaign to reduce infant mortality. KDHE also made changes to improve the Medicaid enrollment process for new mothers. He also served on the Governor’s Task Force on Childhood Poverty.
The “Child Advocate of the Year” in the health care category is Dr. Dennis Cooley. Dr. Cooley is a pediatrician who has practiced in Topeka for 35 years. He has served three terms as president of the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and. In 2010, the Academy appointed him to its national Committee on Federal Government Affairs. Dr. Cooley is the chair of the Kansas Blue Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality, chair of the Kansas Maternal Child Health Council and a long-time champion for childhood immunization.
The “Child Advocate of the Year” in the business leader category is Westar Energy. Westar is honored for setting an example of business sector leadership in preventing child maltreatment. Westar has become an ambassador for safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. Westar also has joined forces with the Kansas Power of the Positive, the collective effort to reduce the number of children exposed to adverse childhood experiences.
We received several outstanding nominations in the early childhood educator category. We cannot name the winner without first recognizing some worthy contenders.
Deanna Berry was nominated for her tireless advocacy efforts on behalf of young children and for her work knitting together programs and partnerships to serve the children of southwest Kansas.
Shanna Russell was nominated for her hard work building a safe, nurturing environment for young children in the Pine Ridge community of Topeka.
Dawn Chandler was nominated for the impact she’s made on early childhood education in North Central Kansas by sharing her expertise and supporting the families of children with social-emotional needs. All of these women should be proud of what they have accomplished this year on behalf of Kansas kids.
Our “Child Advocate of the Year” in the early childhood educator category is Emyria Villalba. Emyria is a long-time educator at the Family Resource Center in Pittsburg. She moved to the United States from Colombia, where she was a well-respected elementary school principal. Although English was not her first language, her expertise and dedication to young children translated into an exemplary career. She started in the infant room at the Family Resource Center and began a 14 ½ year quest for self-improvement that led her to earn her Child Development Associate credential; become lead teacher in her classroom; study infant development; and volunteer to help start a community health center. In May, Emyria is retiring.
We all have a vested interest in how Kansas children are faring today and what lies ahead tomorrow. As we look into the next decade, the foundation on which early childhood programs in Kansas rests is shaky. The Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund and the Children’s Initiatives Fund support the majority of early childhood programs in our state, however, just last month, lawmakers voted to sweep $12 million from the KEY Fund, leaving it nearly empty. Childhood is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and kids shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of tax cuts and gaps in the state budget. We’ll continue to stand up for Kansas children, and with supporters like those who attended our Symposium, we can help to protect these important children’s programs.