BY: CHELSEA NEELON
Hello to the Help Me Grow (HMG) National Affiliate Network! My name is Chelsea Neelon, and I joined the HMG National Center team in February of this year. You may have seen my initial introduction email, some may have emailed or connected via Zoom, but I want to take this opportunity to reintroduce myself and my teammate Morgan Reiss. More importantly, we want to introduce the HMG National’s new Policy & Community Change capacity.
Meet the Policy & Community Change Team
My career was established in Connecticut state politics, beginning in the legislative sphere, pivoting to government relations and most recently serving as the Director of Communications for the Lt. Governor of the State of Connecticut. I bring a deep understanding of legislative processes and protocol, community organizing and engagement, strategic planning and negotiations, and an understanding of how government really works from the inside.
My teammate Morgan Reiss has been with the HMG National Center just over a year, and her role is unique in that it straddles both the Network Relations branch and the Policy & Community Change branch of the National Center. You may have already read her introduction in a recent blog post by Sarah Zucker, as she introduced HMG National’s new Network Relations branch. Morgan holds a Master of Social Work degree with a concentration in policy practice, and is passionate about building more human-centered systems. This commitment is exemplified by her educational and professional experience working on social determinants of health in research, community, and state government settings. A role straddling the two branches makes sense, as there is great overlap and synergy required to build both the strongest Network Relations and Policy & Community Change work.
The expansion of our branch comes from extensive support and forethought from HMG’s Founder, Dr. Paul Dworkin, and Executive Director, Kimberly Martini-Carvell. This new capacity for Policy & Community Change will work in tandem with our National Center branches and our National Affiliate Network to support a multi-year strategic growth plan for accelerated impact of HMG. Our branch’s work will prioritize policy and community change efforts that achieve significant growth goals for the National Network and work to carry out the organization’s internal and external commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“Strengthening the National Center’s capacity to support affiliates in advancing policy and community change is a reflection of our commitment to employ the HMG Model as a vehicle for early childhood system-building and our recognition of the critical importance of affiliates in transforming systems to strengthen families to promote children’s optimal health, development, and well-being.”
– Dr. Paul Dworkin, Founding Director, HMG National Center
What does Policy & Community Change mean for the National Affiliate Network?
Together with the full National Center team, we are excited to not only announce our presence, but our mission, our motivations, and our ultimate goal for the National Center, and what this new space means for our HMG National Affiliate Network.
Just as comprehensive early childhood systems require input from multiple stakeholders, we know we cannot begin this journey without soliciting input from our extensive Affiliate Network, as you all are the subject matter experts in promotion, prevention and early detection. Through our information gathering and interactions with the Network, we will work together on our overarching goal of leading the development and execution of resourceful change through mutually reinforcing and beneficial efforts at the local, state, and national-levels that advance early childhood system-building through HMG implementation.
We want to work together with all of you to partner on strategic initiatives that will advance comprehensive, effective, coordinated early childhood systems, as well as focus on the ability to secure increased and varied funding to implement and sustain those systems.
Through this collaborative journey, the Policy & Community Change team wants our Affiliate Network to harness its inherent power and operate as an influential, diverse coalition of early childhood experts that advocates for change and consistently works towards creating a more efficient and effective early childhood system in which parents, children, and providers are integral, engaged partners that promote optimal health and developmental outcomes for all children.
Just as the priorities of HMG systems are dependent on the communities they serve, the National Center’s Policy & Community Change branch’s commitment to growth and expansion will be informed by the Network we serve.
How will we do this work at the National Center?
As we begin this endeavor together in the policy and community change space, we will focus our efforts on equipping the Affiliate Network to achieve its fullest potential as change agents and HMG experts, while prioritizing grassroots coalition-building at state, municipal and local-levels. We want to help all of you engage and create relationships with like-minded partners and organizations within your state, as well as feel more connected to other HMG affiliates engaging in similar work across state lines. In time, we will work together to best prepare your system with the tools needed to advance powerful community change.
Why focus on Policy & Community Change?
We know that HMG affiliates are the real boots on the ground, the ones truly living and experiencing the world of promotion, prevention, early detection, and all of the barriers that families and communities face. And we know that building strong relationships within communities builds power. We can provide support and expertise to our National Network when it comes to community organizing, coalition-building, and strategic messaging, allowing affiliates to utilize their combined power to influence community change.
The HMG National Center and our Affiliate Network have been engaging in policy and community change efforts for years, but we are new to specifically naming and elevating this work as an integral piece of HMG, shining a spotlight on the incredible leaders within our Network in this area, and supporting all affiliates in shifting systemic barriers to build comprehensive early childhood systems. Now with this additional capacity, we can continue our national, federal, state, and local community change work, but with a more expansive, intentional and tailored strategy based on the wants and needs of our HMG National Affiliate Network.
How affiliates can work with us
There is huge emphasis in our field on collaboration, integration, creating efficiencies, and partnership-building. However, no one embodies these tenets more authentically than HMG affiliates – the states and communities across this country that have spent years creating synergies across programs and sectors, generating buy-in, creatively blending and braiding funding and resources, all using the HMG Model as the framework and infrastructure to do so.
We are here to work with you, and over time the combined efforts and advocacy of the Affiliate Network can and will continue to influence policy change and reform in the early care, health, child welfare, and education spheres at the local, state and national-levels.
We want to engage with affiliates at whatever level you may be in your own policy and community change journey. Our work is dependent on affiliate input and engagement, and the more we can learn from you, the more we can discern our direction and journey to be most helpful to our Network.
In order to develop a direction for this work that represents both where the Affiliate Network currently is and where it wants to go, we must spend time listening and learning. A critical step will be in conducting a broad landscape scan of existing efforts, priorities, challenges, and resources across the Network. We invite you to contribute to the course of our work by completing this survey. We will also hold a Policy & Community Change listening session on August 29 for anyone interested in learning more, engaging on a specific initiative, or speaking more generally about advocacy, policy, and community change for HMG. Please also feel free to reach out to Chelsea to schedule a 30-minute one-on-one introductory call.
Systems change starts with a vision, and together we want to make our shared vision for HMG a reality for all children and families.
Get to Know the New HMG National Center
In addition to these input opportunities, we will be holding a roundtable discussion on July 26 for affiliates to meet all of our branch leads. Open to the full HMG Network, we invite you all to come and share your thoughts on how the National Center can best apply our new capacity to support your efforts.
Following the roundtable, each branch at HMG National will hold a listening session where you can drop in and spend some more time chatting with specific branch leads and other affiliates who want to be part of the conversation:
• COMMUNICATIONS & NETWORK RELATIONS (AUGUST 8, 2-3PM ET)
• IMPACT & NETWORK PERFORMANCE (AUGUST 16, 2-3PM ET)
• IMPLEMENTATION & SYSTEM-BUILDING (AUGUST 22, 2-3PM ET)
• POLICY & COMMUNITY CHANGE (AUGUST 29, 2-3PM ET)
Chelsea Neelon is the Associate Director of Policy & Community Change at the Help Me Grow National Center.
Morgan Reiss is the Policy & Communications Program Specialist at the Help Me Grow National Center.