My friend and role model, the Honorable Ellen M. Heller, recently retired from the Board of Trustees of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which she chaired for many years. To the members of Better Together, a group of early care and education practitioners, advocates, and funders that she organized several years ago, she recently wrote the following, which I think is well worth remembering:
As my term as Trustee at the Weinberg Foundation comes to an end, I have reflected on the meaningful projects with which I have been involved. Without question, early childhood education leads the list. As I mentioned at the reception, I have presided over criminal trials in Baltimore City since 1986. During that time I have witnessed a great deal of tragedy. It is not only the tragedy of what happened with victims and their families. But, it is also the sadness of seeing the broken lives of many of the defendants—young people caught up in the frustration, violence, and anger that arises from poverty and the proliferation of drugs. So many times in sentencing individuals, I looked into their eyes and I saw intelligence. And, I came to understand that under different circumstances these young people would have led far better lives.
My passion and commitment to early childhood education comes from this experience. The more I learned, the more I became convinced that the community should and could offer opportunities of success if quality education and support services were provided to young children and their families. With the major, generous support of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and the wisdom of those of you on Better Together, we have made a giant leap in bringing early childhood education to youngsters in Baltimore. Together, we have created three centers for children birth to five and two more are “on the books.” Two are part of public schools, and one (birth to two years) is part of Sarah’s Hope for homeless children. I am confident that more will be developed with Better Together partners. Each of you has made major contributions to these centers: curriculum design, expertise, evaluation, family support, Judy Centers, evaluation, and as the King has said, “etc. etc. etc.”