Do Little Things Really Matter?

A successful non-profit requires a clearly defined vision. Effective communication of this vision to the public is equally critical, and often significantly more difficult to achieve. While the Department of Technology at The Urban Child Institute (the UCI) is responsible for online communication, the Department of Education and Dissemination manages the crucial role of directly interfacing with the public.

"Our job is to take the science of increasingly lay friendly knowledge about brain development," says Katy Spurlock, the director of the department "and to share that with the target groups in the community – parents, providers, professionals, philanthropists, and policy makers."

In order to reach these different target audiences, the UCI works through various partnerships with community education groups, such as Leadership Memphis and Leadership Academy, and with service providers like Neighborhood Christian Centers (NCC) and the Early Success Coalition. Through these partnerships, the UCI is able to reach larger groups of people with whom it does not have direct contact.

For example, as a result of ongoing conversations with NCC, the Touch Talk Read Play message was developed. A public awareness campaign and a train-the-trainer style training have grown out of this simple message.

"We're trying to make people understand that the more consistently they touch, talk, read, and play with their babies, the more it can help those babies move forward in life," says Katherine Baldwin, who helps in evaluating the effectiveness of these trainings. "It doesn't take expensive educational toys to give children a good start in life, but a parent does have to be intentional about the parent-child relationship. If not, the child will enter kindergarten without the necessary language, social, and emotional skills to thrive."

The importance of kindergarten readiness – through development of not only cognitive, but also social and emotional skills in the early years of life – is an important message that the UCI also promotes through its partnerships.

"One of the best things about educating people on the importance of the first three years of life is that there's so much evidence to back it up that it's hard not to buy into," says Rebecca Diamond. "It is empowering for parents across the community to learn that even what seem like small interactions with a baby – looking into his eyes, for example, or stroking his skin – can result in a brain wired for healthy, positive relationships, especially if the actions are repeated over and over again."

The UCI also sponsors and attends events of other organizations in the county that share similar goals. At these events an UCI staff person distributes materials about brain development and Touch Talk Read Play, and answers questions about the work of the Institute.

"Some people have heard of us but are not sure what we do," says Susan Day, who is responsible for coordinating the UCI's attendance at these events. "Our focus is educating the community, parents, professionals, and policy makers, and reinforcing the UCI mission statement on healthy brain development in ages 0–3."

But sometimes, words alone are not enough to communicate the message. For this reason, the UCI has a brain awareness exhibit housed in the lobby of its office at 600 Jefferson, as well as other visual representations of its messages, including a collection of drawings that can travel to different events.

"I find it rewarding," says Bill Day, "because with my drawings I can try to change attitudes and feelings. It's all part of educating the public about early childhood brain development and positive interactions with children through Touch Talk Read and Play."

Whether it's training other people, distributing promotional and educational materials, sponsoring events, or displaying visual and interactive messages, the goal of the Department of Education and Dissemination is the same.

"We continue to try to develop creative ways of communicating with people," says Katy. "We want to saturate Memphis and Shelby County with information about early childhood brain development so that we not only increase understanding of the science, but also increase the actions people take toward investing in our youngest children."