by Ambata Kazi-Nance, Communications Fellow
We’re thrilled to announce an exciting new leadership development at our New Haven site. When former New Haven site director Alison Wunder Stahl decided to transition to a part-time role with All Our Kin following the birth of her second child earlier this year, All Our Kin recognized a need to expand the site director role to better address the unique needs of our New Haven family child care educator network. This recognition led to the creation of a co-director partnership with veteran All Our Kin educational mentor coach Marina Rodriguez, and new addition Darrah Sipe, who comes to All Our Kin with an extensive background in social work and labor rights advocacy.
It is fitting that this advancement at our flagship New Haven site comes as we prepare to mark All Our Kin’s twentieth anniversary of partnering with family child care educators, families, and children. In these twenty years we have experienced an impactful growth. What started out as two women with a vision working with six families out of a small space in New Haven has grown into a thriving organization engaging with over 700 family child care educators across four cities in southeastern Connecticut and the Bronx borough in New York City. Of our five sites, New Haven is the oldest and largest, currently supporting over 200 family child care educators who educate and care for more than 1,200 children in the region.
Our New Haven site is in excellent hands thanks to the diverse talents and experience Marina and Darrah bring to their new roles.
Marina, a New Haven native, has been affiliated with All Our Kin since its early days. She was introduced to the field of early childhood education through her son’s attendance at a Head Start program. “I was a really young mom, a teen mom,” she says, “without a real plan for my life, so I started volunteering at my son’s program every day. One of his teachers recognized my potential, and through her I started working with Head Start part-time as a parent involvement aid. That got my feet in the door and led to me taking leadership roles in their policy council team.”
From there, Marina began working with families and children enrolled in New Haven public schools. She also took on a parent educator role at the Family Resource Center at Connecticut Children’s Museum. In this capacity, Marina was professionally introduced to family child care, engaging family child care educators to come to the museum’s newly established program, Mornings at the Museum. There she met All Our Kin co-founders Janna Wagner and Jessica Sager and learned about the work they were doing to support family child care educators in New Haven. “This was in the very beginning when they were working to build a community,” she recalls. “We were running in the same ECE circles which served as an opportunity for us to collaborate.”
In 2005, Marina began to support All Our Kin through offering translation services at their first child care conference, and by filling in for educational coaches. She joined All Our Kin full time in 2013 and has served in many roles in the organization. “Toolkit, educational coaching, technical assistance…I have touched All Our Kin in all aspects,” she says. In addition to co-directing the New Haven site, Marina also serves as a mentor coach for All Our Kin’s technical assistance outreach project in Hartford, a role she will continue to serve until 2020.
During her time with All Our Kin, Marina also went to school to formalize her education. She completed her Child Development Associate’s (CDA) and progressed to Springfield College, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Service. Though she continued on to earn a Master of Science in education, she feels that she gained her most valuable knowledge in the field. “I surround myself with great mentors and community leaders,” she says, “and most of my wisdom and knowledge comes from them and from my experiences working with people.”
Marina describes herself as a “lifelong learner” who enjoys reading and attending professional development opportunities and community programs. “I’m always looking for dialogue,” she says, “and opportunities to learn people’s ideas and understand the thought process behind their ideas.”
Asked to describe the strengths she brings to her work, Marina credits her own accountability and her ability to hold space for and value other people, which she says comes about through her own life experiences. “I practice being present in the moment,” she says, “and approaching the work from a place where I’m going to show up authentically and be vulnerable.”
Speaking on the foundation of the organization she says: “All Our Kin comes from a place of trying to lift the voices that have been marginalized, lifting children, being equitable, being intentional in affording children an opportunity while holding up people’s experiences and perceptions, everything that makes them individual, and making children and their experiences seen in a way that their creativity can manifest itself.”
Darrah, a Philadelphia native, joined All Our Kin in May. She comes to the organization with a background in leadership in nonprofit organizations, particularly focused on workforce and youth development. Darrah has a Master’s in Social Work which helps to inform her relationship-based approach. After moving to Connecticut earlier this year, she was quickly introduced to the organization through professional circles. Family child care was already on her radar from her previous experience working with the Retail Action Project in New York where she advocated for the needs of retail workers, many of whom were women and parents working nonstandard hours. “Access to safe, affordable child care with flexible hours was a top priority for many of our members,” Darrah says, “so I worked to connect them with child care resources and explore the benefits of family child care for families looking to enter or re-engage with the workforce.”
Darrah was also attracted to All Our Kin’s commitment to improving children’s and families lives through increasing access to high-quality, affordable care for personal reasons. “After I had my daughter,” she recalls, “I took a year off from working because child care costs were just too expensive.” When moving to Connecticut, she and her husband used All Our Kin’s services to find child care for their daughter, who is currently attending a family child care program in New Haven. Darrah says, “I benefit on a daily basis from family child care with my child being in a family child care program. Seeing my child blossoming, and how hard the provider is working, I come into the office energized to work hard so the folks who do this important work are supported.”
As a new member of All Our Kin’s mighty team of dedicated professionals, Darrah faces the challenge of adapting to a new environment and planting her own roots. Darrah sees this challenge as an opportunity for growth. “I’m using this time to learn about the community’s needs and understand All Our Kin’s history and role in the New Haven community,” she says. Echoing Marina, she asserts, “I’m striving to approach the work without making any assumptions.”
Darrah is also passionate about amplifying the voices and profiles of family child care educators. She strives to bring her workforce experience into her work with All Our Kin by bringing attention to family child care educator’s employment rights. “For educators to view themselves and embody themselves as professionals, that comes about through knowing their rights, knowing they are paid fair wages and working fair hours, and that they’re not being taken advantage of. That’s the lens I’m interested in bringing to the work. I want to center the providers in all I do because obviously we care deeply about the children and their outcomes, but if we aren’t thinking about the providers, then the outcomes won’t be there for children.”
Four months into their co-directing partnership, Darrah and Marina are working out their respective responsibilities as they go. “We’re building the plane as we fly it,” Marina states, “working together to establish ownership of roles, who takes the lead on what, and thinking strategically about how to support each other.”
Asked about the experience of adapting to a shared role with the organization, Marina says she enjoys it. “It doesn’t feel different for me,” she says. “I work really well in a team, it allows me to capitalize on people’s strengths and see my areas for growth. The dual approach is good, really innovative, and I feel it has the capacity to support the organization on so many levels due to our different talents and perspectives.”
Darrah adds, “I thoroughly enjoy sharing a co-directing role. I think having two people guiding the work of the site allows for more attention to be paid to each program and team member. It also allows me to focus on my set of tasks with the full confidence that I don’t have to worry about other elements of the site’s management because Marina has that covered! Our different skill sets and professional backgrounds work really well to support the work of the site.”
Marina credits this synergy with Darrah specifically. “She’s awesome,” Marina reflects. “Darrah’s skill set and personality align so well with All Our Kin’s values. I appreciate her strength, and her abilities and knowledge that show in her work and how she operates; how she adapts and navigates through intense situations. It’s a good collaboration.”
Darrah recognizes Marina’s extensive experience with All Our Kin as beneficial to her ability to adapt to the new work environment. “Marina is just fantastic,” she says, “and a real treasure. I feel very lucky to work with her so closely, and I learn from her on a daily basis. Marina’s contributions and perspective stretch me, and her background in education and coaching have deepened my understanding of All Our Kin’s work.”
When asked to dig deeper into the particular skills and strengths Marina brings to the role, Darrah states, “Marina is incredibly inclusive and committed to equity. She always wants to involve the voice of our team and educators in decisions. She is also the definition of strengths-based! I love the genuine positivity and connection that Marina brings to all interactions. She can be fun and silly to bring levity to a situation, and then easily transition to going deep and fostering reflection both from herself and others. I really value everything that she brings to the table.”
The rhythm Marina and Darrah have established in such a short time perfectly reflects All Our Kin’s core value as a people-first organization. Our Chief Operating Officer Erica Phillips is impressed by how smoothly Darrah and Marina have slipped into their co-directing roles and confident for how it reflects All Our Kin’s future. “Darrah and Marina make an incredible leadership team for New Haven. They are both deeply committed to New Haven family child care educators, families, children and staff. As our first site, the New Haven community is very important to All Our Kin and I’m excited to see the impact they will achieve.”
We wish Marina and Darrah all the best of success in their new roles and like Erica, we’re excited to see what the future holds for them and for All Our Kin!