After spending two years with All Our Kin, Eliza Halsey is announcing that she will be leaving her position with us as New Haven Network Director in order to spend more time with her three children and to support Elm City Montessori, the school that she helped to found in 2014. Although we are sad to see her go, we are thrilled that Eliza was able to accomplish so much during her time here, and she will always be a member of the AOK Team. The very best of luck to Eliza, to her family, and to her new baby Mayadin! Check out our farewell interview with Eliza below to learn about her time here at All Our Kin and her hopes for the future.
How did you find out about All Our Kin? Why did you decide to join the All Our Kin Team in 2013?
Eliza Halsey: I had known about All Our Kin for a long time before I became the New Haven Director. Janna and Jessica [All Our Kin’s co-founders] are important leaders in our community, and I’ve known them in various capacities for many years. After I became a parent, I would go to Janna for advice about my own children. Both of my older children were in family child care programs in New Haven with a provider who was supported by All Our Kin. It was through this provider, and through Janna and Jessica, that I first came to learn of All Our Kin and the important work it does.
Eventually, I became more active in learning about early education and taking action. When my daughter was about two years old, I began connecting with other parents about preschool options for children in New Haven. I learned a lot about how preschool works, and I created a parent group that began advocating with the New Haven Public Schools for a range of things, especially around ensuring access to high quality preschool for all kids.
At the time, my day job was working with Public Allies, which is a national organization that supports leadership development of young adults working to strengthen their communities. I was feeling a pull to connect my parent advocacy work to my professional work, and that’s when the opportunity arose to take the position at All Our Kin. My role at All Our Kin has allowed me to connect my parent advocacy work with my professional background in program development and organization building in the work I do every day. I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity!
Where did you focus your attention as Director of the New Haven Network?
EH: I would say I focused on three main areas in the past two years: advancing our use of data to improve programming, strengthening our Early Head Start program, and building our local partnerships.
I came on board at a really exciting time when All Our Kin was beginning to think about ways to bring the organization to the next level, especially through the use of data. I had the opportunity to help our teams bring data into our day-to-day practice, and make it easy and interesting to engage with that data. All Our Kin has always been rigorous in thinking about best practice, and now we have the tools with our new database to use information to improve and develop programming. That’s something that I’ve really enjoyed doing.
I’ve also sought to deepen our work with children and families. A lot of this has come through strengthening the Early Head Start program. We were able to build up our systems to be able to better support the Early Head Start providers and families we work with. I’ve worked hard to help our teams do collective planning and evaluation at the same time – to be implementing programs while evaluating and reflecting on them at the same time.
One aspect of the work I’ve really enjoyed is partnering with many community organizations in New Haven. Through Early Head Start, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with so many incredible organizations, including the United Way, DCF, and Lulac, to name a few. The Partnership for Economic Opportunity provided a valuable space for working with a range of partners on workforce development issues, including thinking about what it would take to build a solid jobs pipeline in New Haven. The MOMS Partnership is doing really exciting work to support the wellbeing of mothers and families in New Haven. Working with the New Haven Early Childhood Council and the Hamden Partnership for Young Children has also been very rewarding. And we’re a part of many more meaningful partnerships that have helped us to improve the services and supports we offer to providers, children, and families.
What have you learned in the past two years from All Our Kin?
EH: One of my great learnings from All Our Kin has been how critical it is to pursue both the big picture, which often includes policy and advocacy, with direct service. That’s one of the reasons why All Our Kin is so effective. I always understood that connection conceptually, but All Our Kin gave me an opportunity to see how it works on the ground. Being in an organization that’s nimble enough to marry the big picture with the work in the weeds has been a really rewarding part of my experience at All Our Kin.
I also developed such a deeper understanding of what providers face. I got to know the Early Head Start providers and families especially well. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work directly with them and understand the work that they do in supporting children’s development.
What will you miss most about All Our Kin?
EH: We’ve got an incredible team of dedicated early childhood educators and advocates – both the family child care providers and the All Our Kin staff. It has been so rewarding to meet the amazing women – mostly women – who do the hard work of educating young children every day. What I’ll miss most is being with those providers and staff and being able to respond to the exciting opportunities and challenges that get thrown our way. One of the things that makes All Our Kin special is the incredible community of dedicated folks we have built with great care and intentionality over many years. People on the outside don’t always get to experience that.
I trust that I’ll remain connected with All Our Kin moving forward. I’m completely rooted in New Haven, and I’m eager to stay plugged in with everything that All Our Kin is doing. The work that I do in the New Haven community will continue to be connected to advancing high quality early childhood education and ensuring that all families have access, but what will change is the day-to-day and being able to work as closely with everybody at All Our Kin. I really will miss that.
What advice do you have for the next New Haven Network Director?
EH: Draw on the wisdom of the All Our Kin team. Listen carefully to the voices of the folks that we’re supporting every day in our work. And lastly, have fun. It’s hard work that we do, and it requires a lot of attention to detail and responding to challenges, but I think being able to enjoy it is really important. You have to build in the time to reflect and have fun with the team.
What are you excited about for AOK’s future?
EH: All Our Kin plays a really unique role in the communities that we’re in. I’m excited to see what our growth will look like – whether it expands to other communities, deepens its impact in current communities, or finds new partners and collaborations to advance our work. I’m also really excited about how All Our Kin can lead efforts to help parents understand the value of family child care and be confident in the quality, and to help families actually be able to access it.
How will you spend your time after you leave your full-time role at All Our Kin?
EH: I’m excited to devote more time to my growing family and to continue to support Elm City Montessori School– the new local charter school I helped found. In addition, I expect to continue to advocate for children’s and families’ access to high quality early education. I imagine this will take different forms as I continue work with parents and colleagues who are committed to ensuring that all of New Haven’s children are thriving. At the end of the day, it takes a lot of legwork on the ground to execute a coordinated, high quality early childhood system. Moving forward, I want to have an impact on the systems that we’re creating to ensure that children have quality early education. I look forward to collaborating with All Our Kin as we continue this important work!