Improving family’s public health by making education a focal point

By Victoria Powell

[This is part of a series of briefs covering the 2019 State of the Public’s Health conference produced by graduate students at the UGA Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication in conjunction with the Health and Medical Journalism Program.]

As she stood in line recently at her local Bath & Body Works, Suzanne Harbin overhead a little boy behind her intently making out the words of a store sign that said “lush lips.”

Harbin, whose work focuses on early childhood development, felt inspired as she listened to the boy repeating the phrase, while his mother encouraged him with a big high-five.

“I realized that he was going up and down all the aisles reading the signs,” she recalls. And his excitement reminded her that everyone can be an enthusiastic learner under the right circumstances.

Harbin shared the anecdote to emphasize the power of literacy while speaking on a panel at the 8th annual State of the Public’s Health Conference in October. She was one of dozens of experts to attend the one-day event, which drew a crowd of nearly 300 to the city to focus on a variety of public health challenges that exist in the state.

Harbin is the early childhood initiative director for the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, which has a mission is to assist community members’ welfare, Harbin believes literacy is the key to improving her community’s welfare.

Her community of Dalton, Georgia, was a recent recipient of a Two-Generation Innovation Grant, funded by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. The grant connects parents with educational resources that will help them find jobs and to promote early childhood learning. Further, this grant betters public health within communities by strengthening its structure on all levels—first generation and second.

Different foundations and organizations use this $35,000 grant to pinpoint public health needs in their communities and create resources that improve their respective focus. Harbin was excited to apply the grant resources to local literacy initiatives.

Joining her on the panel were Brett Copeland, the Child Development Centers assistant director at Central Georgia Technical College and Clayton Adams, the Early Education Empowerment Zones community coordinator in Clarke County, Georgia.

Each panelist focused on education within their communities and how it affects families as a whole.

Copeland and Adams’ focus concerns the first generation—the parents—and their ability to complete postsecondary education while taking care of their children.

Adams explained 27% of female students at technical colleges in Georgia have dependents and difficulty graduating. His focus is creating centrally located childcare resources to support parents’ education so they do not have to look elsewhere.

Copeland also examined external factors like food security and job availability surrounding education that impact the level of care parents can provide for their children.

Compared to the other panelists, Harbin focuses on the second generation because of the long-term benefits.

“It’s going to take a long time,” she said. “Working with kids from zero to five years old is an investment.”

She understands that by improving literacy rates, it will in turn create a successful generation of soon-to-be parents that can boost economic success by having a healthy education and therefore a healthy community.

Posted on November 15, 2019.

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