By Kimberly Martini-Carvell

The organizing, investing and curating of information, attendees and partners for the Help Me Grow National Forum is actualized by many. The Forum planning committee contributes significant energy and resources in informing and designing the content, while Help Me Grow National Center (National Center) staff works diligently to ensure that every opportunity possible is leveraged. Over the past year, I have participated in lively debates about the correct length of a Forum breakout session, what days of the week are best to hold the Forum, whether coffee should be available with meals and at breaks, and so on. I’m always happy to add my two cents, but I never feel decisions regarding such issues are something I ultimately own. My confidence in our network of affiliates, partners and National Center staff allows me to engage as an informant in the planning process in lieu of being the manager, except for one thing – identifying and securing our keynote speaker.

Help Me Grow National Center, based at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, provides technical assistance and support to affiliates in 28 states that operate 99 Help Me Grow systems. It is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

I work to find the one person who can passionately communicate their body of work, while simultaneously creating the space for Help Me Grow affiliates to see their unique value in ensuring that “children have the best shot in this world despite the difficulties life throws their way.” I need the keynote speaker to be someone who has a fire in their belly to create and demand opportunities for young children and their families to thrive. I want someone who knows that their work is elevated when an engaged, informed and vibrant network is invited to participate in the movement. If you haven’t already discerned, I take the job of identifying and securing the keynote speaker very seriously. I read countless articles, watch TED Talks and attend meetings in order to develop a list of potential speakers that fit exactly what we are looking for.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder of the Center for Youth Wellness and our 2018 Help Me Grow National Forum keynote speaker, embodies all of the attributes mentioned above. During the summer of 2017, Nadine and I were both in New York City at a toxic stress convening presenting our work. The long and grand circular conference room table was anchored with Nadine on one end and Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, on the other. The room was abuzz with passionate conversation about the science of adversity, the policies that limit scaling proven interventions, and the need for multi-sector, comprehensive early childhood systems. As the convening facilitator worked to bring the participants back together and move the agenda along, Nadine said, “We can’t continue this conversation or our work in this fragmented way. Toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences are a public health crisis that demands early identification and treatment. We cannot afford to ignore the magnitude of diseases and disorders that we know early childhood experiences dictate.”

Her dogged commitment to young children and their families who are vulnerable and at-risk for experiencing adverse childhood experiences is profound. Nadine’s Center for Youth Wellness is a national leader in the effort to transform pediatric medicine, raise public awareness, and transform the way society responds to children exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress. Her newly published book, The Deepest Well, is yet another medium in which Nadine exposes and explores one of the most critical health issues we face today by combining a stringent scientist’s lens and a passionate child health care provider’s heart.  As previously communicated, Nadine embodies all the qualities of a forum keynote speaker.

Identifying the right person and securing them are two very different things. Thankfully Nadine let me know when her book tour was launching and I quickly pitched making the 9th annual Help Me Grow National Forum one of the stops. She and her team worked hard to make this opportunity possible, and for that I am so grateful. I cannot think of anyone else who fits all of my criteria and would value the audience of affiliates, funders and early childhood stakeholders as much as she does. As she said in July 2017, “Toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences are a public health crisis that demands early identification and treatment.” Dr. Nadine Burke Harris demands our attention.

Kimberly Martini-Carvell is the executive director of the Help Me Grow National Center which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.