Our long-time Evaluation Specialist Denece Dodson will be retiring this month after working with First 5 Contra Costa for nearly 15 years. Denece has been instrumental in building, supporting, and implementing First 5 Contra Costa’s evaluation system since our early days. First hired by our external evaluation contractor, Denece helped set up our first evaluation systems and frameworks. A few years later, we hired her in-house where she’s been a reliable and effective evaluation team member for the last ten years.
We will miss her even-keeled temperament, keen insights, and strategic thinking. These attributes have benefited our agency, our funded programs, and most of all, the children and families of Contra Costa County. Good luck Denece – you will be deeply missed!
What are you most proud of in your work at First 5 Contra Costa?
I’m proud and honored to be affiliated with First 5, and getting to know, learn from, and work with the 100s of individuals in programs that have been funded by or partnered with First 5 over the last 14 years. I’m proud of the work that has been accomplished by our contractors. I’m proud of the extraordinary and competent staff at First 5 and how much has been achieved. For those staff that have been here from the beginning, we have matured and weathered this incredible journey together. And, I’ve made lasting friendships with colleagues.
The Napa Program for Early Childhood Mental Health was the best personal investment I made in my time at First 5. It taught me more about the wonder of brain development and how impactful healthy relationships are for young children. Plus I earned this unwieldy title at graduation: AIFECTP/RPF1. Anyone figuring this out I owe lunch!
What were some challenges and lessons learned?
Thinking strategically takes time but provides the necessary clarity to be focused with limited resources. We can count on change that challenges the best of intentions. Things always take longer than anticipated. For evaluation purposes having to live simultaneously in three fiscal years at once is confusing with looking back, being in the present, and preparing for the next year. Being flexible, nimble and gracious takes practice! And that First 5 assistants are some of the least visible but most fun and creative staff ever.
What would you like people to understand most about evaluating programs?
Evaluation is a helping profession grounded in curiosity and embroidery – helping service providers learn about what works and what could be strengthened or changed to provide better services; helping programs tell bigger and better stories about their impact in the community; helping staff understand what gaps still need to be addressed; helping stakeholders understand the value of their investments; helping others be curious and to question results in order to tell a richer story; and best of all, helping to build a more thoughtful and detailed approach to services to ensure that families and children are nurtured, supported and well-connected. Evaluation is a stitched together effort of many many hands and eyes and brain power.
What are your hopes for young children and families in Contra Costa County?
Children can’t wait! My hopes are that every child grows up feeling loved, supported and enriched by the adults in his or her life. My hopes for families is that they enjoy the opportunity to be their child’s first teacher. My hopes are that service providers and educators receive the necessary resources to make a real difference.
What will you do next?
That’s easy! I’ll spend a week or two in my pajamas reading on my long-neglected window seat. My four cats and husband won’t know what to do with me milling around the house, but my new puppy will have more supervision and I’ll spend less time mending her chewing projects. Then who knows? Maybe resume Spanish classes, drawing, yoga, week-day hikes, lunch with friends, salsa lessons, design clothes, plant more fruit trees, and generally dabble in this or that. I have friends who work internationally on very interesting projects focused on child welfare and poverty, so I just may jump on board!