LAS CRUCES – Doña Ana County holds a wide variety of services for young children and their families; many of which are fairly unknown to the community. For instance, Head Start (3 and 4 year olds) and Early Head Start (expectant moms and children under 3) serve 848 expectant moms and children under 5 throughout the county. I’ve worked in early childhood education in this community for over 25 years, and had no idea most our community’s services existed until I became active with the Success Partnership.

The SUCCESS Partnership plays a fundamental role in increasing access to services, fostering partnerships and support between programs, and creating sustainable change for our community.  The three Head Start and Early Head Start programs in your community have all been actively engaged in the SUCCESS Partnership since its conception in 2013.  You’ll almost always find La Clinica de Familia Family Services, Dona Ana County Head Start, and Las Cruces Public Schools Head Start staff at committee meetings and community events, strategizing and implementing goals.

Currently, I’m engaged in three committees with the SUCCESS Partnership. I sit on the Leaders Circle, which is a group of county-wide education leaders. I’m also involved with the Children’s Museum Committee, working to create the first children’s museum in Doña Ana County. I’m the chairperson for the Family Empowerment Committee, which aims to support services in the community, in empowering families, through education and shared resources. Each committee is dedicated to the collaborative effort within the SUCCESS Partnership.

 In 2016, Ngage NM and I wrote a grant together to fund the Doña Ana County Education Coordinator position. In that time, we’ve been able to identify and begin implementing some really exciting new projects like the Workforce Development Conference Scholarships and a new Policy and Advocacy committee. This committee aims to provide our community of educators with the training needed to make informed decisions around early childhood education and family services.

Through the Workforce Development Conference Scholarships, we’re able to identify 16 individuals from the community to attend national level conferences. The intent is to connect a variety of educators and professionals who work with children ages age 8 and younger to high quality, rare professional development opportunities they would not otherwise be able to access.

So far, we’ve selected educators and professionals from home childcare, private childcare, and PreK programs, as well as home visitors and promotoras. Those selected will then join a local cohort, in which they’ll receive support to facilitate a free training to as many local educators and professionals as can be reached. This system will help create several layers of professional development and growth, for the greatest impact.

Doña Ana County isn’t the only place you’ll find a wildly passionate, dedicated group of early childhood educators, working to drive change. In meeting with a wide variety of professionals throughout the state, I’ve come to learn that many communities and counties have similar coalitions. We’re in the process of connecting with other coalitions, in hopes of continuing and supporting the amazing work that’s happening throughout our beautiful state, and collaborate as a state. Together we’re stronger, after all.

I feel incredibly blessed to work alongside Ngage NM and our community partners, toward high quality services for families in our community. We still have work ahead to move New Mexico out of the 49th percentile, but having experienced the power of working together, I believe change is on the horizon.

Early Head Start and Head Start programs are federally funded and offer no-cost center and home-based child development services to qualifying families.  For more information about Head Start or Early Head Start, please call the following numbers:  LCDF Early Head Start/Healthy Start (575) 532-0515; DAC Head Start (575)647-8733; LCPS Head Start (575)527-6020

Tricia Heffelfinger has a background in education and psychology. She taught toddlers and preschoolers at Alpha School for almost 20 years. She has been with La Clinica de Familia for 6 years.