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Region Stories

These stories illustrate how early childhood programs and services funded by First Things First make a difference for young children and families in communities across Arizona.

Jean Barton is the 2019 Yavapai Region Champion

Champion volunteer for Yavapai

Dr. Jean Barton has been selected as the 2019 First Things First Yavapai Region Champion for Young Children.

The award is given to local champions who actively volunteer their time to raise public awareness of the importance of early childhood development and health. Champions spend a significant amount of time volunteering with FTF and building public awareness about the importance of early childhood issues.

Dr. Barton spreads FTF’s messages about why talking, singing and reading to children starting from infancy makes a life-long difference in learning whenever she speaks to parents. Dr. Barton speaks to organizations about the importance of early childhood development.

In 2016, Dr. Barton, with the help of all the Rotary Clubs in the Verde Valley, led the expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library from Sedona and Rimrock to the entire Verde Valley region, including Camp Verde and Cottonwood. The Verde Valley Imagination Library, which is managed by volunteers, now sends a high-quality, age-appropriate book every month to the homes of 1,850 children from birth to age 5. She can sometimes be found dressed as the “Cat in the Hat” and modeling for parents, book cuddling and reading to their children.

Dr. Barton worked to establish a partnership agreement so that the family of every baby born at Northern Arizona Healthcare’s Verde Valley Medical Center has the opportunity to enroll their newborns in the program. They also receive the first book, and parents are told about the importance of reading to babies “every day because they are born learning.”

We recently caught up with Dr. Barton, who is a retired educator and pediatrician.

Question: Why do you feel early childhood development and health is important? 

Answer: I believe that a child’s experiences between birth and age 5 are the foundation for their future life.  Everyone talks about the problems facing K-12 education when we should be talking about birth-12 education.  We know that interactive talking, playing and reading starting in infancy wires the brain for language and future literacy.  

We know that adverse social/ emotional experiences in the first five years profoundly affects lifetime mental, physical and chemical health.  Parents of young children need all the help they can get. Time and money are scarce. Sending parents carefully chosen, engaging children’s books every month is a wonderful way to encourage the habit of reading together.

Question: How do you suggest other people in your community get involved?

Answer:  Spread the message that investing in children starting at birth will help prevent the problems seen in school kids, teens and adults. The societal and financial savings are enormous. 

Understand the issues facing the parents of young children in your community – stress, time, money, lack of extended family for support to name a few.  Avoid judging parents who are less than perfect.  Most are doing the best they can.

Vote, volunteer and donate to organizations that help parents and young children

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