Guest Contribution from Teree Caldwell-Johnson

The work of Women United reminds us of what a few capable and committed women—living united—can do. For you see, the Women United promise is deeply rooted in the possibilities, the potential, and the understanding that each and every child deserves not only an early start but an even start.

I am an active and engaged member of Women United and daily witness the impact of our investment in early childhood up close and personal. As the CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood, I know one of the single most important components of Women United's human service portfolio is Oak Academy. One of the few nationally accredited preschools in our community, Oak Academy creates pathways for school readiness and success. Designed to serve the needs of young children from 6 weeks through 5 years of age, our work is greatly enhanced by and through Women United. From funding support to Book Buddy, professional development to consultants who supplement the work of our staff, Women United assists Oak Academy in establishing the framework and creating the building blocks required to advance the physical, social, and emotional development of the children entrusted to its care.

The critical role Women United plays in purposefully preparing high-poverty, high-risk children to enter school on par and ready to compete with their peers is a game-changer.

Teree Caldwell-Johnson with a Book Buddy student at Oak Academy.

For the past three years I have been a volunteer with Women United's Book Buddy program, reading one-on-one with a child at Oak Academy every week for 20 minutes, followed by a session with another student. In year two, I was paired with a student on the autism spectrum. Each Tuesday, Buddy A greeted me with a warm smile and a hug, but, from day one, I knew that I had a challenge on my hands. Determined to rise to that challenge, I spent time prior to my Tuesday Book Buddy session plotting and planning how I was going to connect and keep A’s attention. I learned quickly that A was easily distracted, so to keep her focused and on point, my watch was my only accessory. Over time I began to see the weekly progress that A was making. As the year progressed, she learned to spell her name, regularly recognized letters of the alphabet, perfected her counting skills, and showed significant developmental growth. By the end of the year, I marveled at A’s substantial growth, her incredible confidence, and the wonderful personal connection we had made.

It is opportunities like this that make my membership in Women United come alive, and students like A who help us to understand the impact of our investment. Our purpose, power, and promise are undeniable.

Women United carries the power of the purse and the power of the pen.

Our financial support, buttressed by our advocacy and public policy work, has given rise to significant legislative changes and elevated early childhood education in ways big and small.

The work of Women United is the promise for the future. Through our many investments, we are giving children like my Book Buddy A both roots and wings! Now that’s impact!

Learn more about Women United and how you can get involved! 

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Topics: Women United

Teree Caldwell-Johnson

Written by Teree Caldwell-Johnson

Teree Caldwell-Johnson is a Lead Member of Women United, CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood, and serves on the Des Moines Public Schools board.