News & Notes:

Watch It:

Q&A: Meet New Alternate Commissioner Matt Regan

Parenting Topic: Kindergarten Expectations

Spotlight: Finding Community at a First 5 Center

Sean’s Message


See Our Updated Data Dashboard

Our Data Dashboard has been updated! Check it out for the latest information about our investments and the many ways children and families benefit as a result.

Our interactive Dashboard is divided into six sections, including information about our investments, demographics on children and parents served, and key outcomes related to child care quality improvements, preschool enrollment, early intervention services, and support for at-risk families.

Each section includes detailed data, infographics, videos, and links to parent testimonials and blogs.

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Take a look and learn more about how our funded programs are improving the lives of thousands of children and families in Contra Costa County.

If you have suggestions about what you’d like to see on our Dashboard, just let us know.


Sugar Bites Receives Communicator Award

02-award-smOur Sugar Bites campaign website was recently honored with a 2014 Communicator Gold Award of Excellence, bestowed by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA). The annual Communicator Awards are the leading international awards program honoring excellence in marketing, advertising and communications. We received the top award for a website in the health category.

AIVA is an invitation-only organization of top-tier professionals from various disciplines of the visual arts. With over 6,000 international entries received, the Communicator Awards are the largest and most competitive awards program honoring creative excellence for communications professionals.


First 5 Volunteer Appointed Co-Chair of Childhood Obesity Task Force

03-lucy-smLucy Alfaro-Canjura, a member of the West County Regional Group for the last four years, was recently appointed Co-Chair of the City of San Pablo’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Task Force. Lucy credits her participation on the Regional Group with building her leadership skills and preparing her for such an important community role. About 150 parents volunteer on three Regional Groups sponsored by First 5 Contra Costa to make Contra Costa healthier, safer and more family-friendly. The program teaches community residents leadership and advocacy skills and how to contribute their voices to the political process.

“By being a leader in the WCRG, I’ve learned necessary tools to become a leader in my community,” Lucy said. “My participation assisted me with networking opportunities in San Pablo and Contra Costa County. I’m now a familiar face to many families in the community.”

As a member of the Task Force, Lucy joins representatives from county health and social services, nonprofit organizations, and San Pablo elected officials and staff working to address childhood obesity in San Pablo, which has the highest rate of overweight and obese children in Contra Costa County and the third highest rate in California.

“First 5’s Community Engagement program brings ‘unheard’ voices into the political process and helps elected officials and key decision-makers understand the needs of early childhood,” said Rhea Elina Laughlin, First 5’s Community Engagement Program Officer. “It is very gratifying to have one of the Regional Group members seated in a leadership position on an influential citywide committee where she can promote the needs of low-income families.”

Lucy originally attended the Task Force to provide input during the development of a Community Action Plan, along with about a dozen other WCRG members, who were the only residents participating. Their involvement proved so critical that Task Force members nominated and elected Lucy as Co-Chair of the group after attending four meetings.

“I bring first-hand experience working with families dealing with obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It was not until I joined the WCRG that I decided to make a change to a more healthy living,” says Lucy. “I now attend Zumba class three times per week. My kids and I eat healthier. I have started the changes one step at time, and I can help others do the same.”

Join a Regional Group and make a difference for young children in your community!


Volunteers Create Learning Garden at Monument First 5 Center

04-volunteer-smFifty volunteers from Keller Williams Realty in Walnut Creek descended on the Monument Community First 5 Center in Concord last week to transform an unused dirt lot into a vibrant learning garden and outdoor classroom for preschoolers and their families.

The event was part of Keller Williams’ annual RED Day campaign, a day of service for Keller Williams associates to give back to important causes in their communities. The Monument Community First 5 Center was the recipient of these generous services this year.

Named the “Garden of Good Things” by staff at the First 5 Center, the garden will become an outdoor classroom and provide new programs for children and parents focused on sensory art, science, nutrition, and gardening.





The Monument Community First 5 Center is located at 1736 Clayton Road in Concord.


Watch It: First 5 Early Intervention Efforts

A new video by the First 5 Association highlights the importance of developmental screening and early intervention during a child’s first 5 years. It also stars a local Contra Costa family – check it out!


Q&A: Meet Alternate Commissioner Matt Regan

qa-matt-smMatt Regan is the Bay Area Council‘s Vice President of Public Policy. Matt staffs the Council’s Government Relations Committee and the Council’s Early Childhood Education Committee, which is a major policy priority for the Council. With more than 15 years experience in the political arena, Matt has worked as a contract lobbyist, an in house Government Affairs specialist for a large bank, a State Assembly legislative aide and a field organizer for several high profile elections across the Bay Area.

Matt is a native of Ireland. He attended the Middlesex University School of Law in London and the University of Ulster School of Business where he graduated with a Post Graduate Degree in Marketing. Matt lives in Pleasant Hill with his wife Janet and 7-year-old daughter Grace.

What food did you refuse to eat as a child?
Eggs; boiled, scrambled, poached or fried.

What is your favorite childhood memory?
Rare sunny days!

What is your favorite place or activity in Contra Costa County?
Hiking in Briones.

What was your favorite children’s book?
The Secret of Yellow Island by Mary Regan (my mom wrote children’s books).

What would make Contra Costa a better place for young children?
Contra Costa is a great place for children and a great place to raise a family. Unfortunately not all our children have access to all the county has to offer. It would be wonderful if we could resolve many of the inequality issues that we suffer so that all the children in the county can thrive and reach their full potential.


Parenting Topic: Kindergarten Expectations

pt-five-smIt’s important for kids starting kindergarten in the fall to feel confident and ready on their first day of school. Mastering kindergarten readiness skills is one way to do that.
Kindergarten readiness includes practical skills that children need to succeed, as well as social emotional skills that help them to successfully function in a classroom of peers. And parents play a key role in preparing kids for that first day. Try these tips:

Talk Together – Children need both confidence and ability to use their words:

  • Have frequent conversations with your children and encourage them to use words to express their feelings and reactions to the world around them.
  • Read to your children for 20 minutes every day and talk about the story, the characters and what happened first, next and last.
  • Try stories and songs with rhyming words, which expose children to different sounds and help build their vocabulary.

Sharing – Sharing is hard for preschoolers, but a necessary skill in kindergarten:

  • Parents can teach cooperative play, like completing puzzles or building a block tower together.
  • As you’re building the block tower, walk through the concept of sharing by saying, “Now it’s your turn to add a block and then it will be my turn.”
  • Use positive reinforcement to encourage sharing. When you see your child sharing with someone else, point it out.

Counting – Children entering kindergarten can typically count to 10:

  • Teach your child to count by using objects like blocks, buttons, or books.
  • Make counting part of your daily routine. Ask your child to count the number of plates needed for dinner or how many steps you’re climbing.

My Name – Children are expected to be able to print their first name:

  • When children are toddlers, you can start pointing out the first letter of their name whenever you see it. You can also play word games by saying, “Your name starts with ‘T’ like tiger. What else starts with that letter?”
  • Children can practice writing their name with their finger to get the feel of the letters. Try spreading shaving cream on a cookie sheet for practice.
  • Teach your child the proper pincer grip, which is needed for holding a pencil, by asking your child to pick up Cheerios or small objects with his or her thumb and index finger.
  • Playing with play dough can also help develop hand muscles needed for writing or cutting.

Listening – Teachers expect children to be able to follow directions and listen:

  • Improve listening skills by encouraging your child to repeat directions back to you.
  • Use multi-step directions to build your child’s attention span, such as “Please pick up your toys first, and then grab your coat.”
  • Try playing games that require listening and following directions, such as Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light.


Spotlight: Finding Community at a First 5 Center

spot-nain-smWhen Nain Lopez drives by the West County First 5 Center, her daughters always point and say, “There’s our First 5.”

The Lopez family began taking First 5 Center classes seven years ago, even before the San Pablo site was open. At the time, Nain was new to the U.S., caring for her infant daughter Yenuen without family nearby and with few friends. Isolated and alone, and adjusting to her new life as a stay-at-home mother, Nain was experiencing postpartum depression.

She decided to take an infant massage class at the Center, and she’s been going ever since. She now attends with her four-year-old daughter Rebeca. Nain says the classes and families she met at the First 5 Center helped her recover from postpartum depression and became her lifeline.

“I had no family and I was home alone. I had always worked or gone to school, from the time I was 16 years old. But slowly, with the help of the classes I was taking, I began making friends. We started play dates, and I still see these families today,” says Nain. “They also are immigrants with no family here. We’re all from different countries, but we came together because of the First 5 Center. We formed our own community.”

At the Center, Nain learned about our Preschool Makes a Difference program and obtained a scholarship for her daughter to attend high-quality preschool when she returned to work, “As soon as I learned about PMD, I wanted to do it. If First 5 was involved, I knew it would be a good program for my daughter.”

Nain also participated for four years on the Community Advisory Council, a group of volunteers who help oversee the activities and programs offered at each First 5 Center. As a CAC member, Nain made important community contacts and learned valuable skills, such as meeting facilitation, which helped her land a job as a Program Manager at Catholic Charities of the East Bay.

Now when Nain sees parents with young children, she can’t help but approach them and ask, “You go to First 5 right?” If they’re not familiar with the Center, she hands them a current class schedule and talks about the benefits of the program for both parents and children.

“I tell parents ‘The First 5 Center will benefit your children and you. Your children will do better when they get to kindergarten and you will make friends there,'” she said. “First 5 is so important in my life. Like I tell my girls, once upon a time, First 5 lifted my life.”

Learn more about a First 5 Center near you.


Sean’s Message

It has been well documented that quality early childhood programs can prevent crime and lead to higher graduation rates and future earnings, but now new research shows they can also prevent chronic disease and improve adult physical health.

Professor James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in economics and long-time advocate for greater investment in early childhood programs, published the research after reviewing the 40-year-old Abecedarian preschool program, one of the oldest early intervention programs in the country.

In the Abecedarian preschool study, two groups of low-income children birth to age five were tracked: one who received services and the other who did not. Services included stimulating early learning experiences from birth, full-time preschool, meals, and periodic medical check-ups and screenings.

Professor Heckman found that children who participated in Abecedarian became much healthier adults compared to the control group. For example, men who participated had:

  • Lower blood pressure and hypertension
  • Lower rates of obesity
  • Higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol
  • No signs of developing metabolic syndrome, the group of risk factors that can lead to heart disease, diabetes or stroke

Women who received preschool services were less likely to suffer from pre-hypertension and obesity and more likely to engage in healthful habits such as regular physical activity and more nutritious eating habits.

New data indicates that nearly 40 percent of California kids ages 3 to 5 are not enrolled in preschool or kindergarten. Hopefully Professor Heckman’s latest research can be used to change this. As he says:

“These new findings on health intensify the already high value of quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children – and should be put to use to shape more effective state and national policies.”

— Sean Casey, Executive Director