Advocacy is powerful. 

Advocates have great potential to inform and influence the understanding and actions of decision-makers and neighbors alike. To be an advocate can feel intimidating if we lack expertise or are unfamiliar with the “big picture”; however, a recent experience reminded me that the most important element of advocacy is the personal connection. 

I attended an Advocacy Day event at the Ohio Statehouse – it was an opportunity to join hundreds of Ohioans gathered to raise awareness about the need to prioritize investment in early childhood as part of our state’s biennial budget process. It’s been many years since my family relied on early childhood resources, but I recognize how important these programs and policies are to my neighbors and our community. A family might benefit directly from better access to childcare, home visitation for new parents, universal Pre-K, and additional developmental resources; but it’s also important to highlight the long-term social and economic benefits for our communities. With high-quality birth-to-five programs yielding up to 13% ROI, we can’t afford not to invest in early childhood. 

This was an ideal setting for amateur and experienced advocates alike, because much of the logistical coordination was handled by Groundwork Ohio – a non-partisan, state-wide organization focused on public policy to improve outcomes for young children and their families. Conversations with lawmakers may seem daunting, but surrounded by hundreds of people from across our state with shared purpose I felt energized and inspired. Many arrived with their own stories to tell about the impact of investment in early childhood from the perspective of a family, a small business owner, a public health researcher, a public sector program, or an early childhood education professional. The insight of experts and state politicians from both sides of the aisle reinforced the need to prioritize and invest in early childhood as the right thing to do – highlighting the budget as a moral document.

After the morning session, we set off for in-person conversations with lawmakers. I was prepared with statistics from Lakewood’s recent CHNA, along with a story about my own experience (years ago) camping out overnight hoping to register for two of the limited openings at a childcare center so I could rejoin the workforce. I know the value of strong data, but it’s the memorable stories that compel. I was paired with another parent for our appointment, and was quickly reminded how personal the failures of our programs and policies can be. Her experience with inconsistent and unpredictable childcare assistance programs was a shocking example of the gaps in our system and the realities of policies that place enormous administrative burden on the struggling families they are supposed to help. Her resilience, not to mention her willingness to take time away from her job and family to advocate for others by sharing her experience was inspiring. I was relieved that a staffer pulled her aside on the way out to assure that they’d follow up on her case. I couldn’t help but wonder how many others encounter the same barriers and don’t know where or how to advocate for action. It was an important reminder that when we take the time to speak up for – and with – each other, we become better equipped to advocate for the issues that matter most.