From the mountains to the valleys and deserts to the sea, nearly 80 representatives of First 5’s throughout California gathered at the capitol in Sacramento on April 5 as part of the First 5 Association’s Advocacy Day to educate state lawmakers on important issues concerning young children and their families.
The First 5 delegations from 28 counties completed 83 legislative meetings with Assembly Members, Senators and their staff, sharing stories and statistics on policy priorities ranging from home visits to early care and education, family strengthening to oral health.
“The great thing about First 5 Advocacy Day is that we continue to introduce First 5’s as an innovator across the state,” First 5 Association Executive Director Kenney told the First 5 delegations. “Legislators know you use tobacco tax money, but they don’t know you create sustainable systems of change for children 0-5.”
Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian (R – San Luis Obispo), the founding chair of First 5 San Luis Obispo, gave First 5 representatives a little pep talk: “What you do is very worthwhile. Please continue what you do. If there is anything I can do, my office is always open.”
This was the third Advocacy Day held by the Association. For some attendees, it was their first trip to the state capitol representing their county’s First 5. Some came from as far away as San Diego. A few others came from across town. But no matter their experience or distance, their messages came together loud and clear: putting the needs of California’s youngest constituents atop Sacramento’s legislative agenda.
“I think we have to get our message out universally and that gives us the opportunity to speak as one voice. Otherwise, we’re in silos,” said Roland Maier, Executive Director of First 5 Kern.
“It’s very important how you message things,” First 5 LA Commissioner Marlene Zepeda pointed out. “You also have to know what a legislator is interested in.”
After the legislative visits, a number of First 5 representatives shared their key takeaways:
“I felt really supported by most of our visits,” said First 5 Riverside Commissioner Deborah Clark-Crew, whose delegation met with the offices of Assemblymember Jose Medina (D – Riverside), Senator Richard Roth (D – Riverside) and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D – Coachella). “I was pleased that the people we spoke with knew First 5.”
“It’s exciting to see First 5’s engage proactively in the capitol, not only sharing what we do well, but what we need from the state as a partner,” said First 5 California Deputy Director Erin Gabel. “Translating our best practices into scalable investments from the state is the goal.”
Maier, who met with several legislators, said the First 5 message resonated strongly with Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D – Bakersfield). “He really sat and listened,” Maier said. “And then he asked, ‘What can we do to help?’”
Of course, it did not hurt to have a secret weapon with you. Christina Elliott, a First 5 Sacramento Alternate Commissioner, was the only First 5 representative who brought a living, breathing example of the First 5 focus. Unable to get child care for the day, Elliott decided to bring her 4-year-old daughter, Adelyn.
“Everyone was really receptive to Adelyn,” Elliott said of the legislative visits. More importantly, she said, they were receptive of First 5 Sacramento’s priorities concerning children’s dental care, school readiness and early developmental screening: “We were able to get our points across.”
By: Jeff Schnaufer, Writer, First 5 Los Angeles