Since 2015, the Early Childhood Alliance of Onondaga County has been working toward a vision of all children in Onondaga County having what they need to be healthy, thriving, and ready to succeed in school and in life.
The Health Foundation partners with ECA on several initiatives, including Help Me Grow, which provides referrals to community resources, services, and education on child development and completes developmental screenings, referring to Early Intervention when needed; and Talking is Teaching, supporting parents’ efforts to boost their children’s brain and vocabulary development. A 2019 Health Foundation-funded report from ECA and partners Child Care Solutions contributed to County Executive Ryan McMahon announcing a wide-ranging investment to reduce poverty in the county, including $1.5 million to ECA.
In 2022, more than 1,600 children in central New York were served by Help Me Grow.
“One thing ECA does very well, and that we are continuing to strengthen, is bringing parent voice into these efforts,” said ECA Executive Director Bethany Creaser. “We don’t create programs and tell parents what they need; parents are our partners in finding tools that help children thrive.”
In that spirit, ECA developed Thriving Not Just Surviving through Co-Creating Well-Being, the Health Foundation’s program to strengthen trauma-informed care efforts at the community level. This peer-to-peer support program is facilitated in community settings around Onondaga County to make it accessible for mothers of children zero to five with a history of traumatic experiences such as drug or alcohol addiction or domestic abuse.
“This was an opportunity for parents to develop their own programming. We wanted to know what parents were experiencing so we could work together on high-level, systemic changes,” said Syeisha Byrd, ECA’s Director of Family Engagement.
“When we stepped back and let the parents take the lead, it really took off on its own,” said Bethany.
Thriving Not Just Surviving includes eight weeks of weekly support sessions. Participants work together to create topics for discussion, such as household budgeting, dealing with anxiety and stress, and a goal-setting session to identify areas for growth.
The program helps parents build social capital, a sense of belonging, and a trusted network. Current and former participants stay in touch, learn from each other, and advocate for other parents.
Gabbie, a stay-at-home parent of two small children, appreciates the honest connections she’s found in the program. A session on setting personal boundaries was particularly helpful for her, and the group helped her achieve her goal of quitting smoking.
“It made such a difference to hear the others say they were proud of me for not smoking—it definitely gave me the stamina to keep going,” she said.
Participants are encouraged and supported to take on new challenges beyond the workshops. Two former participants are now on ECA’s Parent Advisory Council, and another traveled to California for a 2023 conference with the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Parent Leader Network. One mom contributes to statewide efforts for Prevent Child Abuse New York.
Gabbie now serves as a co-facilitator for a Thriving Not Just Surviving group. She was invited to the local Head Start program’s Policy Council, and has been offered a leadership role with that group as well.
“I’m finally around people who see my true value and worth,” she said.