Strolling thunder

Walters takes part in nationwide event to raise awareness for children, families

—Submitted photo Michelle Walters is pictured above with her six-month-old daughter Ada in Washington D.C. early this May. Walters visited the capitol to talk with legislators and raise awareness about the needs of children and families across the nation.

Michelle Walters, executive director for Building Families, recently took her experiences as a mom and professional in early childhood development to the Capital to raise awareness about the needs of children and families across the nation.

Walters, of Webster City, traveled to Washington, D.C. in May with her six-month old baby, Ada, to represent Iowa in a national stroller march around Capitol Hill and met with the offices of Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, as well as Representative Steve King, about early childhood issues. Walters was in D.C. from April 30 to May 3.

“Regardless of our philosophies about how to accomplish something, we all want kids to be healthy and happy and families to be successful because that’s what helps make our communities thrive. That’s what creates the future of our communities,” said Walters.

Investing in childcare, investing in access to services like in-home visitation programs and time off for parents were all key points that Walters was able to discuss with legislators.

“I shared my story as a mom,” said Walters.

L-R: Barb Bremner, Polk County ECI director, Senator Joni Ernst, Michelle Walters, Ada Walters, Cheryl Johnson (grandma), and Zero to Three representative Barbara Gebhard, Assistant Director Public Policy are pictured on May 2 in Washington, D.C.

Walters explained that her first child, Olivia, age 4, was born premature and spent five and a half weeks in the NICU. Her second daughter, Ada, six months, was home just 24 hours after being born. She explained that both scenarios were vastly different and that she and her husband were thankful that nurses were able to help them through questions and care for Olivia during her time in the NICU.

Walters also shared her struggles to find adequate child care for her kids when she returned to work after both births.

“There has always been a struggle to find quality child care in our community. One, we don’t have enough child care providers or slots available for kids period. Whether it’s in a center or an in-home, we just don’t have accessibility in our community that meets the needs of the population that we have,” said Walters.

Walters is the Early Childhood Director for her area, and she’s involved in other coalitions that support children and families and help their stories and challenges be heard by the community and local elected officials.

“We have to have moms and dads connected to people in the community to feel supported in what they’re doing, because parenting is a hard job and no one should have to do it alone,” Walters said. “We want our kids to be successful, healthy and happy.”

Barb Bremner, Polk County ECI director, Michelle and Ada Walters, and Rep. Steve King are pictured at the capitol on May 2.

Walters heard about this conference from her work counterpart, Barb Bremner, Polk County ECI director. Bremner attended a Zero to Three Conference and heard about the Strolling Thunder event.

Walters ended up having to fill out a whole application to participate in the event. She had to write an essay about who her kid is, why she should go, what some of her struggles are as a parent and why she thinks it is so important to invest in kids.”

“It was a good experience to learn about my kids as a professional and a parent,” said Walters. “It was a good trip all around. I’m glad we got the opportunity to go.”

Walters joined hundreds of other parents and caregivers and their infants and toddlers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to urge federal lawmakers to Think Babies. During the May 2 event called “Strolling Thunder”, parents and caregivers marched with their babies in strollers on Capitol Hill and asked their senators and representatives to support legislation and policies that will set every child up for achieving their potential as early as possible.

The Strolling Thunder event, organized by ZERO TO THREE, aimed to increase legislators’ recognition about:

• The importance of brain development in the first few years of life

• How a child learns and grows

• How investments in babies and toddlers are critical to our nation’s future

• Why Congress must Think Babies as it approaches its work.

“Even though I may not agree 100 percent with the way in which our elected officials maybe deal with issues, it was still important for me to be there and have a conversation with them because we all could agree that we want kids to be healthy,” Walters said.

“The greatest opportunity to influence a child’s life happens between the ages of 0 to 3, when brains grow faster than at any other point later in life,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director of ZERO TO THREE, a national nonprofit organization that works to ensure that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. “When families have the support they need to nourish the critical first few months and years of development with quality interactions and connections, we can stave off challenges down the road,” he added.

Investments in programs and policies that support early brain development yield significant return on investment in the long run. Research shows that quality early childhood programs that begin at birth can deliver a 13 percent per year return on investment through more years of education, more employment, and better adult health.

But families without the social and economic resources to provide their babies and toddlers with positive, nurturing experiences are at a disadvantage. Nearly half of America’s babies live in or near poverty, which can undermine brain development. Giving all babies a strong start in life increases graduation rates, improves the quality of the workforce, improves health, and reduces crime.


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