Faith in the lives of children makes a difference
The director of the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, Olson Huff, MD, said Tuesday "these are very interesting and challenging times" referring to the development of children and how the faith community effects the lives of young children.
He addressed a First 2000 Days Faith Summit, attended by faith leaders and childrens' workers across western North Carolina, held at the Second Baptist Church in Rutherfordton.
The Faith Summit was hosted by the North Carolina Partnership for Children and was the fourth regional conference held since September in different areas of the state.
Faith leaders, community leaders and early child care experts came together discuss the critical role worship plays in building a strong foundation for learning and the health of North Carolina's youngest children — from birth to age 5.
Dr. Thomas Bland, First Baptist Church Pre-School director in Morganton, said for many children their first exposure to people beyond family is their church, synagogue or mosque. It is vital that the faith leaders come together to talk about their role in providing quality early care and connecting resources that help church members invest in early learning.
"What is our vision for these children?" Huff asked. "What we do here will dramatically affect the first 2000 days of a child and every child for the next 500 years."
It has been proven that 90 percent of critical brain development happens during the the first 2000 days of a child's life. By investing in the first 2,000 days, the leaders said Tuesday, there will be a lifetime of results.
Tammy Johnson, who works with Kingdom Kids Childcare in Avery County said after she lost her factory job several years ago her dream of working with children became reality. She went back to school and is now working at the day care.
"I wanted to teach children about God and Jesus," she said.
"If we as Christians plant seeds they will take that seed and go on . . .We must be the advocate for these children in their First 2000 Days."
Rev. Alice Mason, founder of the Clean Slate Coalition in Sylva, a transitional house for women who are discharged from prisons, jails and other institutions, said her ministry touches "the forgtten ones, the children and babies who are cared for by their grandparents who neglected their own children."
She said she is a witness to so many custody battles between parents, aunts, uncles and parents.
"How do we reach these young children before they feel they are hopeless and abandoned? How can we create joy?" she asked.
"We teach them they are loved. We teach them healthy behavior that will last the rest of their lives. We plant seeds of healthy self-esteem.
"There are too many poor families who feel they are stuck and feel powerless and they turn to drugs rather than face reality."
Parents must be taught parenting skills and as a faith community, Mason said children must be brought out of the shadows of neglect.
"God will show us a new way how to reach these children," Mason said.
Bland also said in his pre-school, leaders know most of the children come from unchurched parents.
"We are impacting and carrying out the gospel to the children," he said.
The Partnership of the Foothills — Rutherford, Polk and McDowell counties,including board member Sherry Bright and executive director Barry Gold.
Bright,director of Family Resources, Inc., said, "The training made me realize, as someone who works in the human service field, when I am at church working with young children I tend to put on my church hat and not blend the work I do there with the work I do during the work day.
"The First 2000 Days presentation is a great resource tool for congregations or others working with preschool children. It is evident that the church can play an important role in supporting preschool children and their families. I think everyone walked away with the feeling that by educating our churches we can strengthen families and ultimately our community."
Gold asked the group "can we work together for the future of the children and have a tighter bond between the young children and faith community?"
At the conclusion of the presentation, the group discussed ways the communities can make a bigger difference in the lives of children.