Anniversaries for nonprofits are usually ho-hum moments in time touted by the organization as a not-so-subtle tool for fundraising, or for getting good press, or just reminding the world that they’re still around. 

The 50th anniversary of Mile High Early Learning is different. It’s a legit reason to celebrate the organization and the heroic efforts of the women who have led the charge for quality early childhood education in our fine state. And it’s a moment when we should all be thanking the women who came before us and fought for our ability to earn a living.

Close your eyes and imagine a time in the not-so-distant past. It’s the 1970s and women are gaining financial independence. Some workplace protections are being put into place like calling out sexual harassment and cool and novel ideas like not firing a woman for being pregnant. Women are even allowed to get their own credit cards without a male co-signer in 1974. Lucky gals! Women are entering the workforce and bringing home the bacon, but alas, the traditional model for childcare remains unchanged. That model is this – you stay at home if you have a kid. Or if you’re lucky, you have an aging parent to watch them for you. Maybe ask around and see if anyone knows someone providing care at their home.

But women are opting into work or being pushed into it for financial reasons. What’s a working mom to do? Enter the unstoppable force known as Anna Jo Garcia Haynes. 

There are women who make Denver run, without most of us noticing, all over the city. But it takes a really special and brave woman to recognize a major issue plaguing the mothers in her community and then take the initiative to tackle that problem relentlessly for 50 years like a warrior. It’s impossible to explain what Anna Jo’s contributions have meant to this community. So, I’ll summarize her impact with a simple logic model.

The problem: Mamas need to work, but who will watch their kids? Who will make sure they’re learning and eating well and becoming good human beings while their moms are earning a living?

The solution: Organize Denver providers to create safe, affordable Montessori-inspired childcare for the children of lower-income families while they pursue training and schooling to attain self-sufficiency.

The outcome: Over 45,000 children have been served in the 50 years since Mile High Early Learning’s inception. Last year, the organization served over 1,000 children and families. Of those families served, 92% are living under the federal poverty line.

And as we now know, children who have participated in early childhood education have better outcomes than their peers in many aspects of their lives including higher graduation rates, a greater likelihood of attending college, university or attaining advanced licensing in their chosen field. They also tend to live longer and earn more over a lifetime.

Anna Jo continues to work ceaselessly on behalf of children and has helped to enact enormous policy changes to increase funding for early childhood education. And then there was Pamela.

Dr. Pamela Harris has been the CEO of Mile High Early Learning for 12 years. There is no other person who could have taken the reigns from a giant like Anna Jo and continued to grow the organization into what it is today.

Pamela has taken all the immense success of Mile High Early Learning and then added layers of progress on top. Under her leadership, the organization has even more robust professional development for early childhood educators, additional programs for caregivers and parents, a new home and training facility, and a surge in partnerships with complementary organizations across the region.

Between Pamela’s Titan 100 Award which she will receive in June, her award for inclusive leadership from GlobalMindED, the organization’s recent 2021 Gallagher Best-in-Class employer award, and the Succeeds Prize in Early Childhood Education – it’s no surprise that Mile High Early Learning is getting the attention it deserves. From serving kids in churches in 1972, to having 9 locations today- families and kids in the metro area are winning with the help of Mile High Early Learning and its powerful leaders. 

Childcare has revolutionized our ability as women to participate in the workforce and financially support our families. When my mother went on maternity leave in 1975, there was no leave policy in place at her organization because no woman had ever returned to work after having a child. Times have changed and it is our responsibility to remember those strong leaders who helped give us access to services we may often take for granted, like childcare. Further, early childhood education and the feeding and nurturing of our kids’ minds is preparing them for an unstoppable future.

Thank you, Anna Jo, Pamela and Mile High Early Learning for your foundational work on behalf of Denver’s kids and their parents. This celebration of 50 years of serving families will culminate at Mile High Early Learning’s Annual Stone Soup Event on June 23, 2022. To purchase tickets or support this event, please go to: https://milehighearlylearning.org/stone-soup-2022/.