“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but building the new”

That quote, credited to Socrates, has perhaps never been more relevant. As we begin the new year with all of our personal hopes and aspirations, New Mexico continues to fight the old demons: lowest in education and child well-being, highest in poverty, slowest to recover from an ailing economy. These are our classic conditions as a state, and we are used to hearing about it. Let’s stop “being used to it”, and commit to building the foundation for a new, better reality for New Mexico.

Here at Ngage New Mexico, we’ve been busy helping to build the new. In 2013, we helped launch the SUCCESS Partnership, a county education initiative comprised of a wide range of partners – those already working in education, and those in the business, government, and faith-based sectors. This Partnership was tasked with going beyond simple collaboration and moving our county-wide education efforts toward greater effectiveness by rethinking how we do education.

One of the most significant results of this work has been the creation of the DAC Early Childhood Coalition, a group of early childhood providers who are committed to serving our youngest children across the county. This group has created and begun implementing a plan to integrate services and promote greater access for all young children. This is part of what it means to build the new.

Perhaps you’ve heard a bit here and there about the importance of early childhood. Locally, nationally, and globally, we’re learning more every day about the impact of the early years on a child’s life. In the first few years of life, the human brain makes 1 million connections per second. One million. The brain reaches 80% of its adult size by age 3.

What does that mean for us? If you take nothing else from this column, know this. The early years lay the foundation for our children’s well-being and our society’s success. If we wait until our children reach kindergarten to intervene, then we’ve waited too long. If we are serious about building a new story for New Mexico, then we start here.

What do we mean when we say “early childhood”? We mean the myriad of evidence-based, quality programs that we know make a difference for young children and families. These include pre-kindergarten, Head Start, home visiting, and parent education programs. We know the return on investment in quality early childhood programs is the stuff of dreams. It’s enough to make your financial planner drool.

Let us make this the year we stop fighting the old, and start building a new reality for Doña Ana County (DAC) and for our state. How? By engaging all of our citizens. New Mexico begins the new year with the convening of our state Legislature on Jan. 16. Make sure your legislators know what is important to you.

Maybe you’ve never paid attention to what your state legislators are doing, or you don’t even know who they are. Perhaps the work of the Governor’s Office has never interested you, or you’ve never made the connection between your vote and the impact on your daily life. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last few years, I hope it’s that your engagement in the political process is crucial, and your vote matters. Let this be the year that reality sinks into your bones and motivates you to get involved.

Help us make 2018 the year we lay the foundation in New Mexico to build the new. Need some ideas?

Start talking to your state legislators about the importance of early childhood. Check their website to find yours.

New Mexico elects a new governor this year. Find out when the candidates are coming to your community and attend the meetings. Ask if they plan to invest in early childhood, and how. Check Ballotpedia to see who is running.

Attend early childhood conversations with your state legislators. The next one in Las Cruces will be from 5-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 9 at Beck’s Coffee House. This event is jointly hosted by the Las Cruces Sun-News and New Mexico in Depth, and will feature Sen. Bill Soules (Democrat) and Rep. Rebecca Dow (Republican).

Contact the DAC Early Childhood Coalition to learn more about early childhood.

Contact Ngage New Mexico to stay up to date with current efforts in early childhood. To receive our monthly newsletter, e-mail info@NgageNM.org.

Lori Martinez is the interim executive director of the nonprofit organization, Ngage New Mexico. Ngage is the support organization for the SUCCESS Partnership.