Tackling Society's To-Do List One Family At A Time

A recent CNN headline reads, "Leaders at the UN Tackle the World's Worst To-Do List." The list includes stopping extremism, solving the refugee crisis, fostering Middle East peace, and working to end poverty, disease, hunger, climate change, and the threat of nuclear weapons.

I'm grateful to the leaders, administrators, scientists, and foreign services officers who are in New York City this week, focused on finding solutions to the world's big issues. Know that you aren't alone. Those of us that work in the area of early childhood development embrace your efforts because we believe that it is the world's smallest citizens, our children, who are most affected by these biggest of issues. And, with our colleagues at UNICEF, we also believe that "Early childhood development is the key to a full and productive life for a child and to the progress of a nation."

At the Children Museum of Manhattan, we trust that the smallest step in a child's life can have life-changing results. That's why our to-do list focuses on children through the basic unit of society, the family. After all, children are introduced to both the idea of community and of government through their families. For most of us, family offers a tie to the past and a bridge to the future.

As we develop our programs, workshops and exhibitions, we look at issues that affect the long-term well-being of the family. In a previous piece for the Huffington Post, "Offering Teen Moms Tools for Lasting Meaningful Change," I referenced our program that brings homeless mothers and children to the Museum to participate in an early childhood art and literacy program designed to help teen moms improve their lives by providing them with the skills, knowledge and resources to create better lives for themselves and their children. This type of change takes time, funding, and committed partners.

Families in the shelter system, particularly those with young children, are among the most vulnerable populations in New York City and across the nation. While some are able to visit our Museum, many more aren't. Some parents have never been to a museum themselves and worry that they will feel out of place. As a result of these findings, several years ago we began to explore ways to bring the Museum and its messages of delight, discovery and learning into areas of our community with the most need.

We decided to create Health and Learning Hubs that literally bring hands-on museum exhibits, colorful wall graphics and fun family programming into locations that serve NYC families in need. To date, we've installed 14 hubs in Head Start centers, homeless shelters, and even in an NYC Administration for Children's Services intake office. Hub content focuses on the development of healthy lifestyles and early literacy and is based on our popular EatPlayGrowTM curriculum, created in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, as well as on our ongoing work with researchers on early childhood development.

Today, we're celebrating the installation of our 15th Hub at the Albemarle Family Shelter in Brooklyn. It is the first of 10 new Hubs, for a total of 24, which we will be opening across the city. This expansion is the result of a generous $250,000 Target Youth Wellness Grant from Target Corporation and of our ongoing partnership with the NYC Department of Homeless Services.

Like parents and educators around the world, we know that a cheerful environment, art projects, and family sing-alongs can brighten a child's day and create an atmosphere that promotes learning and wellness. These openings won't receive the attention of the work being done at the United Nations, nor should they. However, these family-sized actions will set big things in motion and they too will change lives.