History

A Seed is Planted: 1997-1998

In April 1997, Ret. General Colin Powell challenged Americans and communities to come together and make youth and children a top priority at the President’s Summit for America’s Future in Philadelphia.  America’s Promise Alliance was created at that meeting and motivated citizens to consider how they might serve this initiative in their own corner of the nation. The following year, Northeast Louisiana began to organize their own efforts to focus on youth and adolescents.  In the spirit of America’s Promise, 250 regional leaders and visionaries convened at NELA’s Promise: The Summit on Youth in Monroe, Louisiana. 

The Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana is formed as a response to the mandate from NELA’s Promise.  Community luminaries dedicated to uplifting the youth and families of our region began to organize their efforts and create the foundation of the Coalition.

Taking Root in Fertile Soil: 1999-2000

As the century came to an end, The Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana began.   In January of 1999, 120 leaders and citizens attend the first meeting of CCNELA where 55 community organizations are represented. In the months that followed, vision, mission and strategic priorities were adopted.   Taskforces began to meet around the five resource areas of America’s Promise- a caring adult in every child’s life; a safe place with structured activities in non-school hours; a healthy start for children and access to health care; an effective education with marketable skills; and an opportunity for all young people to give back to their community.

The Coalition received the nourishment necessary to grow in the spring of 2000.  The first membership drive was held during April and May, which provided funding for a promising future.  In July of 2000, the Board of Directors is formed by devoted community leaders and the Coalition is staffed with Executive Director Lynda Gavioli, and an Executive Assistant.  By the fall, the Coalition is officially a nonprofit organization and is formally incorporated as 501 c3 with the first grant received from the Louisiana Office for Addictive Disorders.  The funding was to organize a youth leadership program for area high school students.  Youth leadership named the program L.E.G.O.S. or Leaders Engaged in a Greater Opportunity to Serve which involved the Points of Light Youth leadership training and service learning projects in the community.   

Sprouting forth into the Millennium: 2000-2002

As 2000 progressed, over 100 volunteers continued to meet to determine the best way for the Coalition to begin addressing children’s issues.  The unanimous agreement of all task forces was that the problems and challenges faced by young people of all age groups had their origins at birth. With funding from the Mintz family, the Children’s Coalition Board of Directors entered into a contract with Dr. Craig Ramey, founder of the Civitan International Research Center (CIRC), and a national expert on children’s issues. Dr. Billy Stokes was the lead researcher on the project under the direction of Dr. Ramey.   Thus began a year- long study in 2001 on the status of children in Ouachita Parish and the region.   

In 2002, CCNELA released the first report based on the research with Dr. Ramey that tracked 32 indicators of child well-being with recommendations for the parish, “Bridging our Communities: the Development of a Plan for Early Education Services for Ouachita Parish”.  The report included recommendations for change by Dr. Craig Ramey which became a catalyst for change for the organization and the community.  As a result of this collaboration, the Coalition unveiled its plan for creating a system of resources that support children and their families. 

Growing and Flourishing: 2003

2003 was a year of tremendous growth for the Coalition, and the community was beginning to take notice.  CCNELA received the Kellogg grant for education and public awareness of early brain development, as well as the becoming a state sub-grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Covering Kids and Families Grant.  Additional funding was awarded from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in the Office of Addictive Disorders, the Louisiana Department of Social Services in the Office of Family Support, and the Louisiana Children’s Trust Fund.  CCNELA also received its first federal Early Learning Opportunity Act grant, which doubled the number of staff members, allowing the Coalition to work first hand with parents and young children through the Parents as Teachers program.  An important part of this grant involved working with child care to improve the quality of their program using the ICRS and ETRS evaluation tools.  This significant financial and staff growth allowed CCNELA to move from the United Way offices to its own independent location at 1271 Lamy Lane.

Branching Out to All Ages: Infants…

In 2009, CCNELA began to address the high rate of infant death in the northeast region through a grant from the Office of Public Health and the Maternal and Child Health Coalition.   This grant enabled the Coalition to become a part of the statewide effort called the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review (FIMR) program.  FIMR focuses on fetal and infant deaths occurring at 24 weeks gestation up to one year of age. The Coalition formed a community team that assessed the deaths and developed initiatives to address the causes.  This led to a grant from the Living Well Foundation to expand efforts and host Safe Sleep summits, to provide safe sleep education, and to support SHARE in grief support for the mothers of infants who have died.  A further effort funded by Living Well provided a coordinator to conduct Child Safety Education throughout the region. 

In 2008, the Children’s Coalition was approached to become a host site for the Nurse Family Partnership.  The Nurse Family Partnership is a highly successful, evidence-based program that works with pregnant moms until their children turn two.  Nurses provide weekly visits giving information about parenting, health and available services.  In 2014, this program was reorganized by the Bureau of Family Health and the grant funding went to a regional medical center.

Children…

In 2006, the Children’s Coalition was named as the Child Care Resource and Referral Agency for Northeast Louisiana.  Under this grant from the Louisiana Department of Social Services, the Coalition began offering child care referral services for parents, training for child care teachers and technical assistance for child care centers to meet licensing and quality standards.  This is a service that continues to be offered for this region of the state.  It was in this role that the Children’s Coalition became an advocate for increased quality of care and became involved in the development of Quality Start, a voluntary quality rating system for child care.  The Coalition supported the passage of legislation creating School Readiness Tax Credits to serve as an incentive for child care centers, teachers and parents to participate in Quality Start.  Currently, the Children’s Coalition is working with the Department of Education who is now responsible for child care to develop a new quality rating system that will be mandatory.  The Coalition was one of thirteen pilot programs working with the Department to implement this new system requiring all publicly funded early childhood programs to work together to form this new system.  This new relationship has the Coalition working closely with school systems throughout the region as pre-k programs, child care, NSECD programs, and Head Starts will be part of this new system. 

To further their holistic approach to childcare, the Children’s Coalition established access to mental health consultants for child care centers.  Professionals worked with staff to provide children in state regulated child care centers with support for social and emotional issues.  Funded through the Tulane Institute for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, the program has been extremely successful and continues to this day.

CCNELA began to promote life skills in Early Childhood Education in early 2008.  During the 2008/2009 school year, the Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana piloted a life-skills building program for four-year olds called, “Al’s Pals: Kids Making Health Choices” within Monroe City Schools.  For the 2009/2010 school year, the program was provided to all four-year olds within Monroe City and Ouachita Parish Schools as well as five Child Care Center, with Lincoln Parish Head Start being added in 2012.  The 10th anniversary of CCNELA in 2008 was celebrated by moving into its current location, at 1363 Louisville Ave with staff of 13.

Adolescents...

With the passage of Act 555 in 2004 and the state mandate to form local Children and Youth Planning Boards, the Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana partnered with Judge Sharon Marchman and the Police Juries in Ouachita and Morehouse Parishes to organize and facilitate the 4th JDC Youth Services Planning Board.  The mission of this board is to promote accessible, culturally relevant services for the prevention, intervention and treatment of children, youth and families in or at-risk of entering the foster care or criminal/juvenile justice systems.  The first project sponsored by this group included the development of services available to youth and their families in this region.  Upon the completion of this project, the 4th JDC Youth Services Planning board approached the MacArthur Foundation and the Louisiana Models for Change program for funding to continue their efforts.  The MacArthur Foundation accepted the proposal with the University of Louisiana at Monroe as fiscal agent, in partnership with the 4th JDC District Attorney’s Office and the Children’s Coalition.  The purposed of this grant was three-fold—to establish a model juvenile drug court program, to establish a system of data collection and assessment leading to the appropriate care for youth having contact with the justice system and to establish evidence based programs and practices in the area to serve youth and their families.  The Children’s Coalition received a second grant to expand evidence based parenting programs and to develop a Parent Empowerment program for parents of youth in the juvenile justice system.  A result of this work led to a strategic plan based upon the assessment of gaps in services for youth and communities.  The work is on-going.

In 2007, the Children’s Coalition was approached by members of the Junior League of Monroe about taking on a new suicide-prevention program called TeenScreen.  The Junior League had started the program, but were unable to sustain it financially.   The Children’s Coalition was able to secure a grant through the Louisiana Office of Mental Health to pay the coordinator and to sustain the program. Columbia University’s TeenScreen Program was implemented nationally in 2006.  Social workers and mental health professionals were trained to assess local adolescents (with parental permission) for signs of risk for suicide and depression.  Approximately 2,000 students were screened annually in Ouachita and Monroe City Schools.  Students screening “at-risk” of mental health issues are referred to services to meet their needs.  Staff members followed up with the family at three and six month intervals.  The program was so successful, CCNELA received the 2007 “Model Program Award” from the National TeenScreen Program. 

In 2012, the TeenScreen Program was replaced with another evidence-based screening tool called Signs of Suicide.  This program is now funded through the Northeast Delta Human Services District.  The important components of training for service providers and peers in suicide prevention have been added.  Suicide prevention coalitions have been formed under the leadership of the Children’s Coalition in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes.

Parents…

Children are most likely to thrive in an educational environment when they are supported and nurtured by their families.  The Louisiana Children’s Trust Fund assisted the Children’s Coalition by partially funding an initiative to encourage parent involvement.  Through the Parenting Initiative, the Coalition is able to develop parenting training opportunities in the community to enhance childhood literacy, quality care, success in school and strengthening the family.  The Parenting Initiative includes programs such as Jus 4 Me, which supports and educates pregnant teens in the community, and Triple P, a nationally recognized parenting program that is led by the Coalition’s Parent Education Coordinator. For the past seven years, Gatha Green, Director of Parenting at the Coalition, has been a tireless advocate and educator for parenting in all forms. Leading workshops for parents that ranged from teen parents to grandparents, foster and adoptive parents and event bi-lingual workshops for migrant workers, Green has inspired and equipped those who parent with the skills and attitudes necessary to nurture and support children.

The Coalition realized in 2011 that there was a need to share the knowledge it had gained regarding research based studies and best practices with childcare providers and educators throughout the state.  With this in mind, Children’s Coalition created the concept of a conference where parents, educators and child care professionals could gather to share information and learn from leaders in their fields.  In 2012, the Coalition hosted their first large-scale conference: What Works: Birth to Adolescence.  Each year, the conference expands and offers a greater breadth of information to its attendees. In the spirit of Gatha Greens commitment to the parents and children she nurtures, the 2015 What Works Conference will be dedicated to parenting.

Blossoming within the Community: 2010-present

The Children’s Coalition first held Fall Fit Fest in 2007 as a way to build awareness and to take action in our community on childhood obesity. The successful event took place in Kiroli Park in West Monroe, and was a fun-filled festival that engaged families through activities, fames, and entertainment all focused on nutrition, fitness, and fun.  The festival was an effective way to educate parents and children on living healthy and active lifestyles, and included cooking demonstrations to show parents and children how to prepare easy, healthy snacks.

In 2010, The Coalition partnered with Monroe’s Downtown River Market to create another free, family-friendly festival to celebrate all things youthful—All Children’s Day.  Families strolled along the marketplace and explored the offerings of the Coalition, which include literacy tents, developmentally appropriate play tents, interactive art projects, and more.  Local musicians provided lively sounds for the crowds, and children proudly paraded in their Halloween costumes.  Many local organizations joined the fun, and entertainment was provided throughout the day-long festival. 

Just as the needs of the children and families of the region change, the Children’s Coalition continues to grow and evolve within the community.  The Coalition understands that that the best way to facilitate positive change is by starting at the local level through collaborative efforts from all parts of the community—non-profits, government agencies, civic and faith-based organizations, businesses, families and individuals.  With a dedicated staff and committed Board of Directors, the Coalition will continue to live its mission each day by striving to create communities where children and families THRIVE!