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We are excited to share our annual Start Early 2023 Year in Review, which showcases and celebrates accomplishments and growth from the last fiscal year (July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023).

In 2023, we continued to promote equitable access to early learning programs and services that positively impact children and families.

Start Early influences nearly every aspect of the early education system through our dedicated and holistic approach at local, state, and federal levels. Our emphasis on collaborating with parents and community leaders helps us provide young children with a strong, all-encompassing foundation to enable the most positive growth outcomes.

2023 Year in Review

This work would not have been possible without the collaboration and efforts of our partners. With your help, Start Early will continue to work to create a sustainable early learning system that meets the needs of today’s youngest learners and the little ones of tomorrow.

As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we not only honor the contributions of Indigenous communities but also pave the way for a more inclusive and compassionate society.

By exploring the arts, stories and traditions that define Native American cultures, we encourage our children to see the world through a diverse and respectful lens. We commemorate Native American Heritage Month to remember and learn from history and hope to use this month to continue growing as individuals and families.

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American Indians have been using legends (stories) as a way of teaching ever since time began. There are many lessons in storytelling. Most legends stress that one should not be greedy, boastful, or make fun of others. The legends also encourage older children to watch out for and help younger children. In this way legends taught the right way to do things. The tradition of storytelling tells us that we have a strong heritage for being good listeners and for talking to our children. Positive parenting is based on this concept. To have strong children we need to have good relationships. Good relationships depend on being able to talk AND listen.

Positive Indian Parenting Curriculum, Lesson II: Lessons of the Storyteller
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Children’s Books to Celebrate & Honor Native American Heritage Month

Storytelling is integral in Indigenous cultures—they can be told from books or through utilizing oral storytelling as a way for entertainment, education/teaching, and the sharing of culture and traditions.

As parents, we know that learning is most impactful when it’s shared with our children. Native American Heritage Month encourages us to engage in activities that promote understanding, respect and appreciation for Indigenous cultures. Here are a few age-appropriate books and resource recommendations you can share with your little one to celebrate this special month:

Books recommended for infants and toddlers:

Books recommended for children in pre-K or kindergarten:

Additional resources:

Advancing Racial Equity

For over 40 years, Start Early has been singularly focused on the healthy development of young children, from before birth until kindergarten, helping close the opportunity gap and ensure children are ready to learn.

We are uncompromising in our pursuit of excellence and remain steadfast in our commitment to dismantling the unjust practices and policies that are harmful to children and families of color. Our work would not be possible without recognizing that each child and family has been uniquely impacted and traumatized by racism and generations of long-tolerated inequities.

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For over 40 years Start Early has worked tirelessly to advance quality early learning and support for children and families. We know that starting early has the biggest impact on a child’s development and that Head Start and Early Head Start are an essential part of our work to help all children thrive.

In honor of Head Start Awareness Month, we spoke with Diana McClarien, our vice president of the Early/Head Start Network, to share how our relationship with Head Start began, the benefits of the program and our hopes for the future of Head Start and Early Head Start.

Invest in a Child’s Earliest Years

The first five years are a critical window to shape lifelong success. Act now to ensure children have the best start in life through quality early learning.

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Start Early & Head Start

Head Start Blocks logoStart Early’s partnership with Head Start began in 1985, coinciding with the launch of the Beethoven Project, a groundbreaking program developed to provide wraparound services – including early education options – to families in Chicago’s Grand Boulevard neighborhood. Initially starting off as a grantee of Head Start funding, Start Early has since developed a deep, decades-long relationship with Head Start, that has culminated in a Start Early, Early/Head Start Network, two directly operated programs, and the aligned goals of delivering equitable access to high-quality early learning and care for children and families in the areas in which we operate.

As our network now stands, we partner closely with several local community-based agencies, including our two directly operated programs – Educare Chicago and Healthy Parents & Babies – delivering not only early learning services but also crucial components like doula, home visiting, nutrition, family, health and wellness services. With Black and Hispanic children representing a disproportionate share of children living in disinvested areas, Head Start programs also play a crucial role in addressing opportunity gaps in school readiness for children facing systemic barriers.

Looking to the future, we will continue working in tandem with Head Start to best meet the needs of the families we serve and continue centering family and early childhood education provider voices and expertise in all areas of our work. We are also working to expand our network reach by partnering with new agencies to deliver Head Start services throughout Chicago and our surrounding suburbs and are actively expanding our efforts to address the teaching shortage in the early education field. Through this approach, we hope we can continue providing the best-in-class early education and services so that our children and families within our communities and programs can thrive.

In the 2022-2023 school year, Start Early served over 1,900 people through Head Start & Early Head Start programs, including 39 pregnant women.

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Head Start 101

Learn more about Head Start’s crucial role in promoting early childhood education, school readiness and comprehensive support for children and families across the country.

What is Head Start?

Head Start (HS) is a nation-wide, federally funded compensatory preschool education program. Head Start and Early Head Start (a division of Head Start specifically focused on children aged zero to three) are designed to promote school readiness in infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Head Start also serves pregnant women with a range of prenatal supports and postpartum educational opportunities.

Since 1965, Head Start has long been considered a premier model for early childhood programs (Ramey & Ramey, 2010), and has aimed to foster development and school readiness skills for children from primarily low-income communities.

With Black and Hispanic children representing a disproportionate share of children in poverty, Head Start programs act as a lever to address longstanding racial and ethnic gaps in school readiness outcomes.

Children that participate in Head Start programs make tremendous progress in the areas of language, literacy, and math, and achieve average scores related to letter-word knowledge by the end of their first year (Aikens et al., 2013; Bloom and Weiland, 2015).

The benefits are even more robust for children enrolled in Early Head Start, with higher kindergarten readiness scores and increased social-emotional, language, and cognitive development than children who never attend a Head Start program. (Love et al., 2002)

Head Start as a Model

Head Start programs are typically located in high-poverty areas and provide comprehensive services that address the needs of the whole child, including their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Many Head Start and Early Head Start programs are located within nonprofit organizations. These nonprofit organizations are uniquely positioned to help identify child care needs and develop workable solutions for families. They can also connect families with additional services through their network of local partners, who are able to leverage alternative sources of funding.

Invest in a Child’s Earliest Years

The first five years are a critical window to shape lifelong success. Act now to ensure children have the best start in life through quality early learning.

Donate Now

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Celebrating Head Start Awareness Month

As part of Head Start Awareness Month, our Early/Head Start Network will launch a Child Development Associate® (CDA) program for parents that have children in Start Early and partner sites. The CDA Credential™ is an important credential for early childhood professionals, as obtaining it allows them to take the next step in their career.

We hope to engage with Head Start parents everywhere to elevate their perspectives and gain insights on the best ways to support their children. We know that when teachers and parents are aligned in building a solid foundation, children can thrive.

Join us this October as we celebrate and promote Head Start on social media! Use the #HeadStartAwareness hashtag in your posts to highlight the program.

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  • Bloom, H. S. and Weiland, C., Quantifying Variation in Head Start Effects on Young Children’s Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Skills Using Data from the National Head Start Impact Study (March 31, 2015).
  • Love, J. M., Kisker, E. E., Ross, C. M., Schochet, P. Z., Brooks-Gunn, J., Paulsell, D., Boller, K., Constantine, J., Vogel, C., Sidle Fuligni, A., Brady-Smith, C. (2002). Making a difference in the lives of infants and toddlers and their families: The impacts of early Head Start. Volumes I-III: Final technical report and appendixes and local contributions to understanding the programs and their impacts. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.

To understand the Latino community is to understand that it is vastly diverse within itself. Each individual Latino culture is established within the country people are from, and cultures are kept and celebrated within each respective community while residing in the U.S.

Although many members of the Latino community speak Spanish, words mean different things based on their cultural origin and the individual education of each person. Acknowledging this diversity within the Latino community helps families feel welcomed and demonstrates inclusivity of all Latino cultures.

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Little girl playing with toyFor young children, it’s important to show and appreciate the differences within each Latino community. Highlighting cultures by showcasing native attire, delicacies, country flags, differences in written language and general images of each culture help to create a shared understanding of what being a Latino means. This also helps Latino children create an identity and a sense of pride to be a Latino.

Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for Latino children to understand the history of their family and their community. When speaking with a family in the native tongue, it creates a bond within the family unit that will help the child as they get older and learn to speak additional languages.

“Attire From Around the World” is an activity we like to do with the children and families we work with. Each child dresses up in an outfit that represents their nationality. Some students have worn Charo attire and folkloric dresses. Others braid their hair in a distinctive style or bring flags from their country to proudly display. We all love it when parents bring in food unique to their home country because it is a chance for all of us to sample special dishes and celebrate that culture! Children also love to take part in making pinatas – which are all created differently depending on what country they’re from.

Children's Books to Read During Hispanic Heritage Month

Whether your child is a toddler, in pre-K or headed to kindergarten, here are books to read aloud with your little one to celebrate and learn about the Latino culture.

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In these tumultuous times, the need for greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is in the news almost every day. One of the best ways to raise tolerant, accepting and empathetic children ready to thrive in life is to start early, incorporating inclusion and anti-bias into early childhood education curriculum for infants, toddlers and their families.

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Danielle Jordan, a school director of Educare Chicago, recently shared the early childhood school’s DEI best practices, starting with the fundamentals.

Teachers at Educare Chicago incorporate songs, storytelling and books into the curriculum. Some of her favorites include:

DEI books for children

This approach to developing a child’s sense of confidence in their personal and social identities (e.g., gender, ethnic and religious) aligns with the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) anti-bias education. As a result, children feel grounded in who they are without a need to be superior to anyone else. The approach also emphasizes a teacher’s capacity to help a child recognize how they are simultaneously different and similar to others, which helps children foster an ability to comfortably and empathetically engage with people from all backgrounds.

We encourage students to share what is distinct about their families, how they celebrate special occasions and what is important to them.

Danielle Jordan, School Director, Educare Chicago
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Educare Chicago student holding diversity collage In a recent activity, children recently made posters showcasing their cultural heritage, as well as their similarities and differences. “The students were able to share and be proud of what makes them unique… your hair may be in ponytails, while my hair is in locks. The simple rule is we would like to treat people fairly and acknowledge that we are different but we’re also the same and need to show each other respect,” Jordan continues.

This focus on respect and appreciation for inclusion is particularly important during this time of racial unrest. “The way that we address the societal environment is by talking about community, family, culture and heritage,” says Jordan.

To help talk about these topics, staff at Educare Chicago have incorporated Sesame Street’s “We’re Different, We’re the Same” segment into their curriculum, as well as the book “Sometimes People March” by Tessa Allen.

We are doing exactly what our name says… We are starting early and building foundations that I hope will give the students what they need to go on.

Danielle Jordan, School Director, Educare Chicago
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Educare Chicago teachers also help students learn how to process big emotions such as sadness and anger, while emphasizing that people express feelings in a variety of ways to encourage an appreciation for personality differences. The school’s Wellness Specialists also connect with parents to let them know where their children are from a socioemotional perspective and offer guidance for development.

Intensive family engagement is a core tenet of the school’s approach, meaning the school’s inclusive curriculum also extends to children’s first teachers: their parents and caregivers. Staff provide parents with book recommendations, including those outlined above to help encourage at-home discussions about DEI. There are also parent support groups and a Parent Committee to help parents to build strong relationships with staff and one another.

Jordan has already seen the impact of their work. Recently, students celebrated a very shy classmate for stepping outside his comfort zone to give a presentation to the entire school about his pet snake.

Learn more about how to address race and identity with children by reading our National Racial Day of Healing blog post.

Buffett Early Childhood Fund logoThe Buffett Early Childhood Fund (BECF) invests in early childhood practice, policy and science to improve systems and create structural change so all young children and families thrive. BECF has partnered with Start Early for 20 years. BECF has invested a total of more than $90 million in Start Early, collaborating with our organization to launch and expand both the Educare Learning Network and the First Five Years Fund (FFYF) over time.

All of those opportunities that we have in those first five years to enrich a child's educational and intellectual development, to enrich their social and emotional development – that can have a really big impact on how children do in school, work and life.

Susan A. Buffett, Founder and Chair, Buffett Early Childhood Fund
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History and Impact of the Educare Learning Network

Exterior photograph of Educare Chicago, early learning program on Chicago's South SideIn 2000, Start Early, the Irving Harris Foundation and other partners created the first stand-alone Educare school, Educare Chicago, on the city’s South Side.

Shortly after opening its doors, Educare Chicago attracted the attention of Susie Buffett, founder of BECF and a philanthropist, at that time, new to early childhood. Susie Buffett was seeking to improve educational outcomes and bring an effective early education initiative to Omaha, Nebraska. Following consultations with Start Early and a site visit to our Educare school, she decided to invest in establishing an Educare school in Omaha, which opened in 2003.

Through BECF and Start Early’s leadership and partnerships with other Head Start providers, school superintendents and philanthropists around the country, the Educare Network has since grown to 25 birth-to-five schools in 15 states, Washington DC and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. In Nebraska alone, BECF has supported the development of four Educare schools and three infant-toddler centers while fueling state policy and systems change to improve early care and education across the state. They have also inspired and engaged a cadre of philanthropic leaders to invest in early education across the country. As the Educare Network’s founding and longest-standing philanthropic partner, BECF works with Start Early and Educare schools to leverage the Network’s national footprint, invest in and scale innovative approaches and build capacity for policy and systems impact.

BECF’s Role in Accelerating Innovations in the Educare Network

Educare schools are learning hubs that innovate and share best practices to transform the lives of young children and positively impact the broader early childhood field. Through its Acceleration Grant initiative, BECF sparked and invested in innovation across the Educare Network, expanding the impact and reach of effective program and policy strategies developed by Network members to additional Educare schools and other early childhood providers nationwide.

Outcomes of BECF’s Acceleration Grant initiative include the expansion of the Educare Parent Ambassadors program, which develops and empowers parents and family members to use their voices and lived experiences in the advocacy arena. Building on the success of Educare Seattle and Educare Central Maine’s programs, Parent Ambassadors now includes six Educare schools and additional non-Educare programs in states across the country, with plans to further expand. The Acceleration Grant program also supported the scaling of Educare Miami’s Early Science Initiative to other Educare schools, a workforce mindfulness and wellness program from Educare Denver/Clayton Early Learning and an effective educator coaching initiative led by Educare Arizona/Southwest Human Development, among others.

Driving Federal Policy Change Through the First Five Years Fund

Educare Chicago students participating in musical activityIn 2007, BECF joined Start Early in launching the First Five Years Fund, a bipartisan advocacy organization that galvanizes support for greater investment in and access to high-quality learning and care.

For fifteen-plus years, FFYF, with support from BECF and other visionary philanthropic partners, has played a crucial role in strengthening and expanding federal early learning programs and building unprecedented federal bipartisan support. This ever-growing momentum, demonstrated by a roughly 60% increase in funding and near-unanimous reauthorization of federal early childhood programs since 2008, represents significant progress and years of dedicated work.

FFYF’s efforts have been integral to maximizing the impact of federal investments supporting the expansion of early childhood opportunities. Additionally, as COVID-19 illuminated long-standing inequities in our country’s systems and policies, FFYF has amplified the role of early learning and care in advancing racial equity, plus the changes needed to create opportunities for all children to thrive. This emphasis on addressing inequities through the promise of quality early childhood education is at the core of BECF and Start Early’s missions, and we are grateful to have a like-minded partner in BECF for this critical work.

One of BECF’s greatest contributions has been inspiring the support of new philanthropic partners to join the movement for quality early learning and care, focusing on closing the opportunity gap.

Start Early is grateful for BECF’s long-term leadership, investment and partnership that continues to drive progress in early childhood education to benefit young children, families and communities nationwide.

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The Buffett Early Childhood Fund (BECF) was established in 2005 by Susan A. Buffett. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, the Fund invests in practice, policy and research to close the opportunity gap for the youngest and most vulnerable children and their families in Nebraska and across the country.

The Buffett Early Childhood Fund’s practice investments include the Educare Learning Network; policy investments include the First Five Years Fund and the Alliance for Early Success; and research investments include the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute as the national evaluation partner of the Educare Network, the research of Nobel Laureate Dr. James Heckman, and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.

In Nebraska, BECF supports a wide range of organizations and agencies that are working to close the opportunity gap, address early childhood workforce challenges and improve program quality and increase public funding streams across the state. BECF Nebraska partners include First Five Nebraska, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative, among others.

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Juneteenth is recognized as a day to honor African American history, culture, and achievements, and it serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice.

Celebrating Juneteenth is one way Start Early demonstrates our commitment to co-creating an organizational culture of inclusion where the presence, voices and ideas of staff and the communities we serve are represented, heard, valued, and acted upon.

For over 40 years, Start Early has been singularly focused on the healthy development of young children, from before birth until kindergarten, helping close the opportunity gap and ensure children are ready to learn.

We are uncompromising in our pursuit of excellence and remain steadfast in our commitment to dismantling the unjust practices and policies that are harmful to children and families of color. Our work would not be possible without recognizing that each child and family has been uniquely impacted and traumatized by racism and generations of long-tolerated inequities.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive news, helpful tools and learn about how you can help our youngest learners.

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Reading books and watching videos are a couple of fun and easy ways to help introduce children to new cultures, experiences and events in history. It is important for children not only to see themselves, but others represented in the stories we read to them. When parents promote values of acceptance, children will take pride in their identity and love the unique parts of themselves that they contribute to the world.

Resources to Help Celebrate and Honor Juneteenth

Here are age-appropriate book recommendations and a celebratory Juneteenth song to share with your little one:



  • Fyütch and the Alphabet Rockers created Juneteenth Song for Kids, a song about what Juneteenth is and why we celebrate Black freedom and liberation.

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Last month, we hosted our 21st Annual Luncheon at the Hilton Chicago, where we welcomed hundreds of supporters to discuss advancing maternal health equity. Through powerful conversations and presentations with experts in the field, we discussed the maternal health crisis and the inequities in the system impacting Black women, alongside the innovative solutions that can save and transform lives.

If you were unable to join us, you can watch the highlights of an incredibly impactful afternoon below.

Quality maternal health can change a child’s future, and when we support the wellbeing of mothers and birthing parents, we set our children up to make an impact for future generations. Ensuring equitable access to quality health care – before, during and after birth – can help prevent maternal and infant mortality and strengthen the developmental systems that enable children to reach their full potential.

As Luncheon Co-Chair Sam Yagan shared, “…we have no choice but to address the issue of inequality at birth. Not just for the sake of the kids and the moms whose lives we improve, but for all of us, and for our own lives to improve.”

I am so thankful for the opportunity to bring parents, educators and early learning professionals together with business and community leaders to discuss the opportunity in front of us to reshape maternal health. And I want to share a special thank you to our Luncheon Co-Chairs, Suk Shah and Sam Yagan, who did an incredible job setting the stage for maternal health experts, mothers, and doulas, who provided the critical perspectives needed to understand the full picture when it comes to maternal health.

We are grateful for the incredible support and generosity of our donors and event sponsors who helped us raise $1.15 million. Every dollar raised helps our young families and sets the stage for them to thrive. You can still show your support by making a donation today. When we come together and invest in early childhood education, we can transform the lives of our future generation.

Luncheon Co-Chair Suk Shah said it best: “Children with quality early learning experiences, who are healthy and prepared, do better when they enter kindergarten. Parents do better, and they’re more prepared to contribute to the strength of their family and their community.”

Thank you for being part of our 2023 Annual Luncheon, and we hope to see you again soon.

2023 Annual Luncheon Sponsors

A special thank you to our generous individual and corporate sponsors who have joined us in a shared mission to close the opportunity gap and ensure every child has a chance to reach their full potential.



Yagan Family Foundation



BMO Harris Bank, 2023 Annual Luncheon Sponsor LaSalle Network, 2023 Annual Luncheon Sponsor

Nancy & Steve Crown | The Crown Family
The Hasten Foundation
Diana & Bruce Rauner
Zell Family Foundation



GCM Grosvenor, 2023 Annual Luncheon Sponsor Oberhelman Foundation & Cullinan Properties, , 2023 Annual Luncheon Sponsor BMO Harris Bank, 2023 Annual Luncheon Sponsor Related Midwest, 2023 Annual Luncheon Sponsor

Marilyn & Larry Fields
Cari & Michael J. Sacks
Diana & Michael Sands



Susan & Stephen Baird
Meredith Bluhm-Wolf & Bill Wolf
The Boeing Company
Noelle C. Brock, Brock Family Foundation
Jacolyn & John Bucksbaum
The Buffett Early Childhood Fund
Dave & Jane Casper
CME Group Foundation
The Duchossois Family Foundation
Cabray Haines & David Kiley
Harris Family Foundation
Ron & Fifi Levin, John & Elizabeth Burke, John & Danielle Didrickson | Goldman Sachs
Make It Better Foundation
The Malkin Family
Charles & Brunetta Matthews
Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Catherine Siegel
Michael & Linda Simon
Steans Family Foundation
Sterling Bay
Sunshine Charitable Foundation
Wilson Garling Foundation



Ellen Alberding & Kelly Welsh
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
Boston Consulting Group | Vicki Escarra
Jimmy & Eleni Bousis
Sarah Bradley & Paul Metzger
The Brodsky Family Foundation
Mark & Shari Coe | Intrinsic Edge
Erikson Institute
The Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation
Fiducient Advisors | Terri & Bob DiMeo
Keith & Rodney Goldstein
Rachel & Devin Gross
Maxwell Gunnill
JP Morgan Chase
David & Gerri Kahnweiler
The Dolores Kohl Education Foundation
Klaff Family Foundation
Learning Resources
Elizabeth & Eric Lefkovsky
Barbara & Dan O’Keefe
Sharon Oberlander
Cathy and Bill Osborn
Plante Moran
Port Capital LLC
Jeanne Rogers & Perry Sainati
Rothkopf Family Charitable Foundation
The Shah Family
Cheryl & Craig Simon
Ken & Kathy Tallering
Robin Loewenberg Tebbe & Mark Tebbe
Laura Thonn
Anne & John Tuohy
Ulta Beauty
Mike & Robin Zafirovski

June is Pride month, a time to celebrate LGBTQIA+ communities and reflect. Pride month exists to foster a sense of community, appreciate differences, and cultivate diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging for queer folx around the world.

Pride month is so important to us here at Start Early. We are committed to cultivating an environment built on the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Participating in Pride month is one way Start Early demonstrates a commitment to co-creating an organizational culture of inclusion where the presence, voices and ideas of staff and the communities we serve are represented, heard, valued, and acted upon.

Our work, focused on providing a bright and equitable future for all children, would not be possible without recognizing that LGBTQIA+ children, families and communities have been uniquely impacted and traumatized by hate and long-tolerated inequities.

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Caring parents want to protect their children from harm, which can make it difficult to know how to teach children about the history and create awareness about events like Pride. With many neighborhoods and communities showing their support for Pride in June, it’s only natural for children to get curious and start asking questions.

Child development experts agree parents should keep explanations simple and honest. It is also important to be positive and affirming. When adults listen to children without judgment, and meet children where they are at, it creates a foundation for open communication. When parents promote values of acceptance, children will grow proud of their identity and appreciate diversity.

Resources to Help Celebrate Pride Month with Your Children

Pride month is an important opportunity to teach children about what it means to be a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, share the history behind the month-long celebration, and to have some fun together as a family. Here are activities and resources that can be helpful when teaching your little one about Pride:




Additional Resources:

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CHICAGO – APRIL 25, 2023 – On Tuesday, April 25, Start Early hosted its Annual Luncheon and celebrated 40 years of working to close the opportunity gap through quality early childhood learning and care programs and services. The gathering of business, civic and philanthropic leaders called attention to the critical role of maternal health and investing in services that support the earliest years of a child’s life – before, during and after birth. It was also announced that the organization received a $10 million donation from MacKenzie Scott through her foundation Yield Giving, which provides Start Early a transformative opportunity to broaden its reach and serve more families with critical programs in communities nationwide.

“These funds will allow us to make deliberate investments to broaden Start Early’s impact and help ensure sustainability decades to come, further advancing our commitment to children, families and future generations,” said Start Early President Diana Rauner. “This unsolicited gift also serves as tremendous validation of the hard work and investments of our staff, our board and our philanthropic partners. We hope our guests’ knowledge from this event will trickle out into the community and supplement the work that Start Early is already doing to create a more equitable and respectful level of care for all women, birthing parents and their babies.”

Despite the continued advancements in medical care and technology, the country’s maternal and infant mortality rates are far higher than those in similarly large and industrialized countries. Women of color, especially Black women, experience disproportionate access to maternal health care, putting them at increased risk for poor maternal and infant health outcomes compared to their white peers. As lasting effects of the pandemic set in and new research demonstrates worsening realities for birthing parents, Start Early felt it critical to devote its annual event to address and offer solutions to the maternal health crisis. The program educated attendees about the systemic inequities impacting women of color and elevated innovative solutions for saving lives and improving those first experiences of new parents and their babies.

The program, which took place at Hilton Chicago on 720 S. Michigan Ave., featured an inspiring lineup of stories from educators, parents, corporate leaders and champions for early learning, including strategic advisor for children and youth in King County, Washington, Sheila Capestany. Capestany discussed the maternal health crisis and its root causes, highlighted its devastating data and proposed policy changes necessary for reproductive and health care equity.

Celebrating 40 years of impact, Start Early is a champion for quality early learning and care and has made tremendous strides toward closing the opportunity gap for our youngest learners. From its roots directly serving families and children on Chicago’s South Side and in rural Illinois to its work today impacting early childhood programs and policies nationwide, Start Early’s focus is grounded in the fact that starting early to nurture attachments between children and adults is essential to a child’s present and future well-being.

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