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Nearly 50 First Things First volunteers celebrate a decade of service

As we enter this month of showing gratitude, First Things First celebrates the commitment of nearly 50 regional partnership council members who have served on a council for 10 years.

These dedicated citizens represent the many facets of our community that have a stake in our young children’s success, including parents, educators, child care professionals, health care providers, tribal communities, faith representatives, business leaders and philanthropists.

At FTF, these volunteer council members – up to 11 on each regional council – help to strengthen the services and supports available to young children and their families in their communities.

Since 2008, regional council members have volunteered more than 350,000 hours in dedicated service to young children, including efforts to study the needs of their communities and work with local stakeholders to identify priorities for funding. But, being a regional council member goes beyond the work done in meeting rooms. Each member – in their professional and personal lives – works to connect others in their community with the work of FTF, whether building awareness of the importance of early childhood among audiences ranging from families to policymakers, or establishing community partnerships that help to expand or enhance the local supports for young children or their families.

Over the next six weeks, we’ll introduce you to a handful of these 10-year FTF veterans from different regions throughout Arizona. Each profile is followed by a complete list of the members in that regional area who have served for 10 years. Regardless of their location or affiliations, these individuals share one common trait: they are passionate about improving the lives of young children in their communities. They are true champions for children.

Please read about FTF Santa Cruz Regional Council member Danna Gallardo:

When Danna Gallardo sees young children learning, she has hopes that they will never go to her school.

As Director of the Juvenile Detention Education Center of Santa Cruz County, Gallardo offers her young charges life skills that she hopes will encourage and enable the youth to lead productive, successful lives.

“Yes, it’s a jail, but it’s also a blessing,” Gallardo said. “When you consider the hardship and trauma that so many of them have endured, it’s amazing to see what love and access to opportunity do for these youth; it opens their eyes to what’s possible for them.”

That’s exactly what Gallardo thinks when she sees the impact of the FTF Santa Cruz Regional Partnership Council, where she volunteers as an at-large member. A mother and grandmother, Gallardo said she felt passionate about helping children, but admits when she first joined the council, she wasn’t quite sure what she was getting in to.

“But once we started doing the work, when I saw what access to early learning was doing for kids; what support in their role as their child’s first teacher was doing for families, I was hooked,” she said.

With an unpredictable caseload and schedule, Gallardo said it can be challenging keep up with all of the information and meetings, particularly during the years when she served as chair of her council. But, it’s all worth it to see strategies that began as ideas turning into expanded services for families.

“First Things First is just different from any organization I have worked with; from the Board to the staff to the regional councils, everyone is on the same page,” she said. “We all are committed to helping young children succeed because, one way or another, we have all felt the impact of not investing.”

In her case, it’s youth suffering from different types of abuse or neglect, dealing with drugs or violence in homes, or simply not having access to nurturing, stimulating environments.

“If you look at the statistics – starting with poverty and trauma – it’s not hard to see why our juvenile detention facilities are full,” Gallardo said. “But if you go to an early childhood program, you can also see why there is hope. Supporting children in having access to quality early childhood experiences is how we prevent or mitigate so much of what I see every day.”

She said she wishes all parents and caregivers – like teachers – were required to take classes in early childhood development.

“Everyone could benefit from understanding how important the early years are. If all young children in our communities, in our state, had the types of opportunities provided by First Things First, they aren’t going to end up with me in seven to 12 years,” Gallardo said. “We can change their trajectory. When they’re ready for school, they’re ready for the world.”

10 years of service
FTF Southeast Regional Area

Pascua Yaqui Tribe Region

Cecilia Garcia

Shanna Ioane Tautolo

Marilynn Correa Sando

Pima North Region

Peg (Marguerite) Harmon

Annabel Ratley

Dr. Dorothy Johnson

Pima South Region

Connie Espinoza

Paul Ohm

Santa Cruz Region

Danna Gallardo

Tohono O’odham Nation Region

Albert Adler

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