By Sophie Hurwitz, The St. Louis American
Constance Gully, the new CEO of the national nonprofit Parents as Teachers, which is headquartered in St. Louis County, knows how the early childhood home visits that the program provides can help a family.
“My son is 22, and he was a Parents as Teachers baby,” she said. “So I was a Parents as Teachers parent at one time, in Normandy School District. So I always tell people, about my PAT baby, that the only thing my parent educator didn’t prepare me for was my baby growing a beard!”
Parents as Teachers provides home visits to new parents, starting during pregnancy and continuing through the first few years of a child’s life. Though the nonprofit was founded in Missouri in 1984, it has since expanded its footprint to all 50 states, 100 tribal communities, and six countries. During Parents as Teachers (PAT) home visits, they coach parents on childcare tips, provide immunizations, screen children to identify developmental disabilities early on, and help connect parents with services.
Though Parents as Teachers has grown significantly from its humble origins, the organization is still heavily invested in the St. Louis area – as evidenced by their choice of Constance Gully, an East St. Louis native and former CFO for Harris-Stowe State University, as CEO. Gully has been the permanent CEO since February and interim CEO since August 2016. She was promoted from CFO.
“As an African-American female in the nonprofit world, I think this is a very unique opportunity,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of national nonprofit CEOs that look like me, and I don’t take that lightly.”
Now she is working to organize the upcoming Parents as Teachers International Conference in Philadelphia this November. Along with that, Gully is prioritizing attempts to keep funding for the program. Parents as Teachers uses a scientifically proven model for improving children’s school-readiness, so it has previously received substantial government funding.
“There are some very high stakes on the radar for early childhood evidence-based home visiting, specifically,” said Gully. The Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV), which provides grant funding for “about 25 percent” of PAT programs in 35 states, is currently set to expire on September 30.
Though one of her priorities as CEO is to keep national funding, the funding situation in Missouri, where the program began, has been “challenging” for some time.
“We’re still at almost half of the funding level where we were, from the state of Missouri, back in 2010,” she said. So as the organization has grown, its funding in Missouri has shrunk.
“Many of the districts in Missouri don’t have the resources to meet their requirements today,” Gully said. “So we have to find a creative way to support the districts in Missouri, whether that’s technical assistance or helping them through in some other way.”
One program Parents as Teachers has in Missouri is a partnership with the Normandy Schools Collaborative, the region where Gully raised her own son. PAT’s office space in the district is right next to the Normandy Early Childhood Center, allowing them to collaborate on making sure children have all the immunizations required to begin kindergarten and track the developmental milestones of each child.
In her role as CEO, Gully also hopes to increase the cultural sensitivity of Parents as Teachers and to reflect the diversity of the families the organization serves.
“One of the important roles that I have is to increase and improve the level of cultural competency that we have as an organization, and push that strength out to the field,” she said. “To make sure, for example, that the books that are usually passed out during every home visit reflect the families that are served.”
And that ability to reach families from every cultural background, and help with the difficult task of parenting, is why Gully fights to make sure Parents as Teachers keeps growing into the future.
“We work in urban communities, rural communities, tribal communities, military families,” she said. “I think we are uniquely prepared as a model to reach families where they are.”