Policy Leadership Academy: Influencing early childhood policy at the local level

by | Nov 23, 2022

Policy Leadership Academy meets in Hastings

This year’s Policy Leadership Academy (PLA) Class 4 gathered in Hastings on November 16 for their second workshop of the 2022-2023 session. First Five Nebraska’s non-partisan PLA program trains and empowers citizen advocates to work with policymakers at all governmental levels to benefit young children and create social, educational and economic opportunity for all Nebraskans.

Wendy Gwennap

The day began with PLA alum Wendy Gwennap welcoming the current class to her community and offering them insights and reflections on her PLA experience and how it influences her efforts as the Adams County early childhood coordinator for Communities for Kids.

After reflecting on the work of their first meeting on building an early childhood movement, class members turned to taking those efforts to the next level. In-depth discussions followed on using data in effective advocacy, reaching and working with local policymakers, identifying relational assets and understanding power dynamics within communities, the importance of understanding community structure and roles and responsibilities of local advocates.

Katie Bass

Data is vital for effective advocacy
FFN’s Data and Policy Research Advisor Dr. Katie Bass emphasized the importance of bringing crucial data to the early childhood conversation. As advocates, understanding where to find appropriate data and vet data sources is a necessary piece of making a case to policy influencers. One of the objectives of the PLA is to establish alumni as credible resources in their communities around issues that affect children and families. Maintaining a knowledge base of the current data and recognizing trends and the story they tell is vital for effective advocacy.

Matt Fong


PLA members are encouraged to explore the possibility of running for local offices such as the village board, city council or local school board. Recently re-elected Hastings city council member Matt Fong discussed his experiences as a public servant, particularly on how advocates can best engage with local officials, and also offered a crash course on running for local office.

League of Nebraska Municipalities’ legal counsel Christy Abraham led the class in a conversation about the legal workings of the county and municipal institutions. As FFN and the PLA members focus on issues of child care capacity and bringing awareness to issues surrounding early childhood, it was a timely and highly interactive conversation.

Christy Abraham

Being a convener
FFN’s Grassroots & Outreach Advisor and PLA coordinator Jodi-Renee Giron closed out the day with hands-on brainstorming on ways to be a convener. Building relationships within the community, sharing information and creating opportunities for action are among the roles and responsibilities of local advocates, while also leveraging media and raising awareness surrounding issues affecting the well-being of our state’s youngest children.

Academy members will next meet in January 2023 and dive into influencing policy at the statewide level in preparation for meetings with their state senators during a February visit to the Capitol. They’ll examine how legislative and administrative policy is made, learn about First Five Nebraska’s 2023 priority legislation and will continue work on capstone projects and honing their skills and vision to bring the voice of the people to those whose decisions affect children and families in Nebraska.

More information:

Nebraska Early Childhood Policy Leadership Academy

2022-23 Policy Leadership Academy kicks off in Broken Bow

Policy Leadership Academy alumni are making an impact, Part 1   

Policy Leadership Academy alumni are making an impact, Part 2  


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