First Things First

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First Things First is committed to helping Arizona kids five and younger receive the quality education, healthcare and family support they need to arrive at school healthy and ready to succeed. First Things First Regional Director, South Phoenix Regional Partnership Council, Jonathon Gonzales, discusses the importance of early childhood and how First Things First is helping young kids and their families in South Phoenix.

Jose Cardenas: In November 2006 Arizona voters passed proposition 203, a citizens initiative that funded quality early childhood development and health. It's now known as first things first. Decisions are made by regional councils made up of volunteers who know what young kids in the communities need. We'll talk to one of the regional directors in a moment. First here's a little of what first things first is all about.

Announcer: Not just the cute years. Not just the cuddly years. 90ers of the child's brain development happens before kindergarten. So really they are the anything is possible years. Join the conversation. Visit AZfirst things first on Facebook.

Jose Cardenas: Joining me to talk more about first things first, Jonathon Gonzales, welcome to Horizonte. We gave a little of the history of first things first talking about the proposition in 2006. Give us a sense for how it came to be. We know Ed and Nadine Bash were involved but how did it come about, what was its purpose?

Jonathon Gonzales: I was working on the other side as an advocate before I came on board. The real crux of first things first is having children ready for school. It's that fundamental piece. We have all heard common core, move on when ready, but what are we doing for children zero to five, when the brain connections are developing, the strong foundations are being set, and really wanting to concentrate our efforts, initiative and our dollars around children zero to five. When we look at the work that's how we frame all the work that we do. Even at the regional level.

Jose Cardenas: One of the things that was different about this initiative, you weren't telling people this is our solution for this issue. It really was involving the community through these regional councils.

Jonathon Gonzales: You're correct. There are 31 regional councils in the state of Arizona. In south Phoenix we have 11 member council all volunteer. They have to work or live in the community. So these are folks that give up their free time to come out, engage with the community, look at the overall needs in the community, the assets. Make decisions based on those conversations with the community.

Jose Cardenas: How long has this council been in action?

Jonathon Gonzales: Since April 2008. I was won't of the founding directors with first things first back then. Going on my fifth year with the agency and my council.

Jose Cardenas: How were they selected?

Jonathon Gonzales: Good question. Many of the folks either came from school administration, really a variety of backgrounds. The initiative, some of the work done by the state board ensured that the 11-member council had a broad diversity.

Jose Cardenas: These are all 11 councils?

Jonathon Gonzales: Yes. That's the pattern for all of them. Not only the way that the statute was written, the work was presented to the state board and now to the community was really focusing on faith community seats, business seats, philanthropic seats. Running into the work we do is the diversity of the seats. It's not all school folks at the table. It's not all business folks at the table. We have a diversity of seats that are delegated out across those 11 seats.

Jose Cardenas: Who decides who the individuals will be?

Jonathon Gonzales: They apply to the council at a regional level and those applications go through interview process with the current council members. Someone from the leadership team. Those applicants are presented to state board for review and then either approval or disapproval. They go before the state board.

Jose Cardenas: Give us an explanation how the council goes about its work of determining what's needed and then once they have done that how they implement their recommendations.

Jonathon Gonzales: Well, we on a biannual basis look at the community and from that work of engaging the community we turn around and look at our strategic direction. Are we doing the work that we need to be doing in the community? This is strategy doing what it needs to be doing to address that need or leveraging that asset. A good example is our quality first program. Our quality first program really looks at the current number of child care providers in the community and then we say, we invite them into our quality improvement rating system. Part of that process is they are able to improve quality for the children so they are successful and ready to start school healthy and happy. Rather than create a whole 'nother infrastructure, establishing preschools or child care centers, we work with existing systems in the community. This is one example of how we try to leverage community assets.

Jose Cardenas: You do that by making grants?

Jonathon Gonzales: Right.

Jose Cardenas: Give an example of the grant making process.

Jonathon Gonzales: It's twofold. It can be request for grant application or inter-service agreement process. The grant application process is different traditional process for state agency where nonprofit agencies can apply to provide that service. Then we have a review committee made up of the same council members as well as some outside reviewers who we ensure they don't have conflicts, they sign disclosures, those sorts of things. Then the applicants are moved forward based on their merits to the state board for approval.

Jose Cardenas: Do you have a sense for how much money has gone into south Phoenix as a result of first thing first?

Jonathon Gonzales: Yes. Over the last five years it's been over $40 million in terms of investment in the community ranging in programs, early childhood development, home visitation, health. Some of the kinds of work that we do.

Jose Cardenas: I understand one of the initiatives is something called birth to five.

Jonathon Gonzales: Birth to five is a really great resource for families. It's statewide. It's a tool for families. Care-givers to be able to call and have access to a nurse.

Jose Cardenas: We have the number on the screen.

Jonathon Gonzales: Excellent. Anyone who has children, small children who may experience a problem they can pick up the phone and get help. If there's no one available at that immediate time you can leave a voice mail or message and they will get right back to you. One of the specialists on staff.

Jose Cardenas: Are some of the services provided in Spanish?

Jonathon Gonzales: I believe they may be an option. I would have to get the information back to you on that on the bilingual and multilingual portion of that help line.

Jose Cardenas: thank you so much for joining us. It's been a pleasure.

Jonathon Gonzales: thank you.

Jonathon Gonzales:First Things First Regional Director, South Phoenix Regional Partnership Council;

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