FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The local First Things First Council is looking for applicants who are passionate about kids to fill more than 150 volunteer council seats available statewide in Coconino, Navajo, Apache and Mohave counties - with terms starting July 1.
"Serving on a regional council is a unique, high-level leadership opportunity to make a positive impact on children and families in your community," said Sam Leyvas, interim chief executive officer of First Things First. "Regional council members help define priorities for funding and strengthen the services and supports available to young children and their families. By collaboration with other passionate, dedicated community members, they provide opportunities for young children to get a strong start in life."
Research has shown a child's early life experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of success in school and beyond.
Kevin Brown, chair of the Coconino Regional Partnership Council, said the program is geared toward kids from birth to age five.
"Brain research shows that 90 percent of a child's brain is in place by age five," he said. "We know that if children are in less than ideal circumstances in terms of nutrition and health...the early development that is so rapid in the brain can be hindered and it can affect the individual well beyond five years old into adulthood."
First Things First partners with parents and communities to give young children the tools they need to arrive at kindergarten prepared to succeed.
Brown said that it is important to have people from local communities participate in the council and First Things First so kids can achieve no matter what circumstances may surround them.
"There's an old saying... 'it takes a village to raise a child,'" he said. "In our state, with the diversity that exists in the state... with more and more children who find themselves in poverty, I think it's important to be involved in efforts to help our children to grow in the healthiest and brightest ways that they can."
The Regional Partnership Council and First Things First conduct a needs and assets report and the council helps to makes decisions on how the money can best be spent in a specific region.
In 2013 according to First things First, because of the programs the organization paid for statewide:
14,121 infants, toddlers and preschoolers were in safe, quality child care and preschool programs while their parents worked;
6,795 Arizona families enjoyed stronger, more supportive parent-child relationships through home visitation;
62,865 caregivers attended voluntary classes in community-based settings on topics such as parenting skills, child development, literacy and nutrition;
75,652 families accessed early childhood information, training or referrals through Family Resource Centers; and,
16,367 screenings were completed to detect vision, hearing and developmental issues in young kids and prevent learning challenges later on.
The First Things First legislation specifies that local people in local regions make the decisions based on local needs.
"It's not a group in Phoenix making a decision for Fredonia, it is people from northern Arizona that understand the diversity of that region," Brown said.
And the different regions have specific needs that differ from one another.
"For example, there may be needs in the Supai Village that are different than the needs in Winslow," Brown said. "Winslow may be different than Hopi."
Brown said that the Regional Partnership Council has been very good, with good attendance and they are looking forward to new members.
"The diversity we have had on the board has been wonderful to help make decisions," he said. "Now that there are seats open, we hope we will have a diverse pool of interested parties to choose from."
Typically, members commit to at a minimum 10 hours per month. The council is looking for people from various backgrounds such as parents of kids five years old and younger and individuals from the business, education, faith or philanthropic communities.
The Navajo Nation has its own partnership council so it is not included in the local regional partnership council, though the council does collaborate with the Navajo Nation and tries to be mindful of services that are provided jointly.
The Hopi Tribe is part of the Coconino Regional Partnership Council.
Tobacco tax pays for the First Things First program.
Brown said the partnership council can make a difference in kids' lives.
"It is good for our communities, our state and our nation to really ensure that children really develop in the best way that they can," Brown said.
More information about the council and applying is available at www.azftf.gov/serve.