Q&A with Lucy Mitzner, Community Engagement Officer
Each month, a different member of our team will share insights into a specialized area of our work - from family philanthropy to social issues affecting our region. This week, we are pleased to introduce you to Lucy Mitzner, Community Engagement Officer, who focuses on Educational Success (early childhood through elementary school) and Community Vibrancy.
What sparked your interest for early childhood education?
My mom reminds me that, as I child, I unfailingly said I wanted to be a teacher or work with kids when I grew up. I’ve always had a propensity to engage with kids wherever I am (elevator, grocery store, etc.), and that’s where my early childhood interest came from.
I studied early childhood education at the University of Maryland, College Park, where my learning was focused on child development. Maryland had an educational laboratory school on campus, so observations and practicums were able to happen in that setting. You could say I “grew up” in my educational theory during my time working in the lab school throughout the academic year and in the summers.
My experience at the University of Maryland sparked a deeper interest in literacy education, so I applied and was accepted to Bank Street College of Education in New York City to study literacy. The graduate school has its own early education school which provided opportunities to observe and intern as I learned about the comprehensive nature of teaching literacy.
How did you land in Richmond?
I originally moved to Richmond to teach, but found my way working with Excellence in Children’s Early Language and Literacy (EXCELL) through the Literacy Institute at VCU – a partnership with the Virginia Literacy Foundation. In my role I worked on the evaluation team and coordinated special projects. I also served as a literacy coach directly engaging with classroom teachers and families, including teachers at both Friends Association locations and at the Partnership for Families pre-school center. This experience required relationship building with both teachers and families to help support their goals in increasing quality early literacy practices in the classroom and home setting.
Describe your role at the Community Foundation.
It’s an exciting time to be at the Foundation and serve on the Community Engagement team as we collaboratively work to refine our priorities and align to the Foundation’s strategic direction.
Throughout the year, I work to build relationships with local partners and organizations to develop a pulse on community happenings. As the Early Childhood Education professional and liaison for our organization and other nonprofits / coalitions I serve with, I’m able to share a holistic view of our sector in this field. The Foundation’s goal is to connect organizations doing similar or complementary work as we invite motivated individuals to join by giving their time, talent, and treasure.
Why invest in early childhood education?
To me, it’s a proactive verses retroactive approach. Because there is opportunity to invest in early childhood, I think it’s so important to take advantage of the impactful, proactive educational opportunities at our fingertips. While there are differing opinions of what age group is most at risk, national research and academic centers advocate for the importance of early brain development. Some children may not have the equitable opportunity of their peers in a different neighborhood. If we can focus on providing quality early childhood services, we may be able to create an equitable start for kids throughout the greater community to be successful. A balanced approach to education – considering both early childhood and K-12 – will be most impactful.
What key backbone organizations are pioneering work in this field? What are the best practices?
To influence and advance long-term solutions for early childhood development, the Community Foundation identifies anchor organizations that coordinate and accelerate change at the systems level. We provide leadership, knowledge, and grant resources to support their efforts to: convene stakeholders, ensure quality programs, coordinate and align public and private sector resources for greater efficiency, or develop regional policies to support shared goals. Our partners include:
Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond – Smart Beginnings is a regional coalition of public and private organizations collaborating to ensure that children, birth through age five, enter school healthy, well-cared for and ready to succeed in school and in life.
Virginia Early Childhood Foundation – VECF is a state-wide, public-private partnership to develop and promote innovative school readiness initiatives that ensure quality early learning outcomes across the Commonwealth.
Additionally, systems change is not possible without a skilled, connected, and dedicated network of direct service providers that offer prevention and intervention programming. We support nonprofit organizations and initiatives that meet the unique needs of the people and neighborhoods they serve, while also working towards a shared vision for our region.
Is there a nonprofit that is especially meaningful to you? Why?
While it’s clear I have a passion for those working in early childhood, and I enjoy my involvement with them throughout the year, I am also grateful to be exposed to so many other organizations that provide important services supporting families. I’ve had wonderful experiences with Habitat for Humanity – for my birthday (two years ago) I had my friends come out and help me build for a day. Habitat’s mission resonates with me because I realize the importance of a safe place for a child to eat breakfast in the morning and lay their head at night. It’s important to support other regional priorities because it promotes healthy early childhood experiences. Stable housing is a vital piece of a thriving community, and working alongside a resident to help build a house is a powerful experience for anyone who participates. I’ve also volunteered at the Habitat ReStore, which is also an amazing place to experience!