Kids’ First Years Creates Family Council to Inform Decisions on Early Childhood Services

Front Row: Rosy Vasquez, Carey Helmick, Ashgan Abbas; Back Row (Joining Virtually): Ateesha Lacoste, Sosena Bezuayehu

By Michelle Smith Howard, President and CEO, Kids’ First Years

Alexandria, VA – Thanks to an exciting new initiative in the Commonwealth, parents and families are now providing critical insights into the decisions on programs and policies impacting early childhood education services and child care in Virginia.

Here’s a brief background on what’s been happening:

In mid-2022, a transformative network called Ready Regions was launched to bring unprecedented levels of coordination and accountability to early education programs in every community throughout the state. The City of Alexandria is part of the Ready Region Capital Area, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and the counties of Arlington and Fairfax.

An essential component of a successful Ready Region involves engaging parents and families with young children in strengthening the region’s early childhood systems to support kids from birth to age five. During the spring/summer of 2023, the Family Connections Committee of Kids’ First Years (KFY) gathered a Family Council Design Team to conduct research, recruit parents with young children, and develop a long-term strategy for families in Alexandria to play an active role in decision-making about early childhood services.

After several months of planning, a Family Council composed of six local families started meeting monthly in September 2023. According to Tomashia Cornitcher, Coordinator of Family Connections for KFY, this group is very engaged and passionate.

“These families are 100% committed to our overall goal of improving early childhood services in Alexandria and finding impactful solutions that will result in systemic change,” said Cornitcher. “They have already identified issues such as child care, quality early education, early intervention, and nutrition, just to name a few of the topics that the Family Council has addressed and will continue to explore in future meetings.”

Cornitcher noted that the Family Council members represent Alexandra’s rich diversity of ethnicities. “Our parents are Ethiopian, Afghan, Black, Hispanic, Egyptian, and Caucasian,” she said. The Family Council’s in-person meetings are at the new Redella S. “Del” Pepper Community Resource Center, and they meet virtually during the holidays or inclement weather.

Judging from the comments below by several of the Family Council members, they are embracing this unique opportunity to have a meaningful voice in Alexandria’s early childhood education system.

“Policymakers often create policies that impact families without understanding what that decision means for us,” said Ateesha Lacoste. “I want my work with the Family Council to influence policy decisions to impact families positively. I’m learning so much about advocacy, and, most importantly, I’m using my voice to impact and influence decisions.”

“Families with young children need more help, and it needs to be easier for them to get help. Alexandria is full of resources for families. I hope the Family Council can help build a bridge between families and the support they need,” said Carey Helmick. “We have been very intentional about creating a Family Council that welcomes diverse perspectives and brings them together with respect. I’m looking forward to tackling bigger conversations and community issues.”

Rosy Vasquez said she joined the Family Council “to help other people and have our voices and requests be heard.” She would like Alexandria parents of young children to know that “there can be changes in our children’s education with the support of our community.”

All Family Council members expressed interest in getting feedback from parents and caregivers in Alexandria. Carey Helmick stated, “We could use all the information we can get. We hope everyone can get involved in building up Alexandria’s families’ resources into a robust and comprehensive program.”

“I enjoy connecting with families in Alexandria so they can have a seat at the table and have their voices be heard as advocates for the quality early education system that their children deserve,” concluded Cornitcher. “It’s very fulfilling—like a dream come true!”

More Alexandria voices are needed and welcomed, and the Family Council will continue to grow in members over the next year. To learn more and get involved, visit or email Tomashia Cornitcher at [email protected].

ICYMI: Leaf Collection in Alexandria Begins Oct. 30

Related Articles

Back to top button