Lisa Jansen Thompson, second from right in the front row, with members of the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County (ECPAC) team. Lisa is ECPAC’s executive director.
Welcome to our Changemaker Profiles blog series! Each edition will profile one outstanding social changemaker from the JVA client community. By sharing the stories of some of the incredible people we get to work with every day, each accomplishing extraordinary work in nonprofits, government, social enterprise and elsewhere, we hope we will bring a little light and inspiration to your day!
For this edition, we spoke with Lisa Jansen Thompson, executive director of the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County (ECPAC). ECPAC is made up of over 45 Adams County organizations, family partners and other key stakeholders such as elected officials. Its mission is “building a community where every young child and their family can reach their full potential.”
1. Tell us about your organization and the social change you are trying to achieve.
“ECPAC, as an early childhood council, is legislatively mandated to improve the access, affordability and quality of early childhood services, and that includes health, mental health, family support and education and early learning by building and enhancing the early childhood and family system. We do that by building strong partnerships in the community and by creating a community strategic plan that addresses the legislative mandate, promotes shared accountability for achieving outcomes, and raising awareness of early childhood services and of why we need to invest not only money but also time and resources in making sure children get the best start. We also provide professional development for improving the quality of services and also making sure providers are more able to provide comprehensive services so families have greater access to what they need.
“ECPAC’s social change is to really help make sure children and families in our community are thriving, knowing that when children get a great start and parents are supported, children are less likely to live in poverty when they are older, more likely to graduate, less likely to be involved in juvenile crime or become a teen parent, and more likely to become a contributing member of society. We seek to prevent and/or mitigate the impacts of poverty, child abuse and neglect, teen pregnancy, and low scores in the early grades. The long-term impact we strive for is supporting Adams County to be a great place for families to raise children and be a really strong community.”
2. What keeps you inspired and going when things get tough?
“As the executive director, I am not on the ground as much, so when I am able to see the work in action, I feel really inspired. That might be going to one of our parenting classes or attending our teacher recognition event every year where we recognize our early care and education teachers. So, seeing how committed our community is to supporting kids and their families. Also, when I see partners really working hard together and sharing resources together or working more collaboratively toward supporting children and families, and when I see us achieving what we set out to achieve.”
3. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break new ground in a traditional field?
“Think outside the box. My mantra at the office is we don’t do business as usual. We have to try new things; we have to be willing to take some risks and be patient. Change takes a long time; changing the way we, as a community, do business takes a long time. So there’s an element of trusting the process and sticking with it. There are times when we take a risk and things are not working as well as we thought, and we need to make a decision whether to take a new direction or give it time. Also, we rely on using data and evaluation for continuous quality improvement.
“And we have to work together. This is not work that can be done alone or with just a few invested people, it takes everyone getting involved with what we want to achieve. It has to be done together. We rely on our community partnerships, with community organizations, elected officials and families. We have to have strong partnerships where we trust each other and are willing to take those risks together. And businesses need to be at the table. We haven’t really engaged with them as much, but we are getting there.”
4. What book do you recommend to everyone you meet and why? OR What book is on your to-read list and why?
“As an organization, we are constantly finding resources that will help us improve our efforts. For me, the books that are most impactful are about improving our efforts around equity and helping me better understand how do we address inequities to make sure every child and every family can reach their full potential. We know there are so many inequities, and we have to be very intentional in addressing these and working closely with families in this process.
“When I first started this a long time ago, a really impactful book for me was ‘A View from the Balcony: Leadership Challenges in Systems of Care,’ by Gary Carolis. I’m not sure if it’s all still relevant today, but the main point was: You have to have a systems perspective for this work. So you have to really be able to step back and look at the big picture and then step forward again so you can get to work at the nitty gritty level. You can’t stay up on the balcony forever; you have to be able to move back and forth between the big picture and the work on the ground. This is what helps our work to be successful.
“So, books about systems and books that are about equity have really helped me.”
5. How have you worked with JVA, and how has that helped your organization?
“ECPAC has worked with JVA in a couple of ways. First, JVA was hired to conduct focus groups with Spanish-speaking moms to inform how to best communicate issues on post-partum depression and anxiety in a culturally responsive manner. This helped inform a statewide campaign through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which had completed a campaign in English. In working with them, we knew we had to not just translate but transcreate the messages.
“And then, because we do systems work, and believe strongly that we have to work together in order to make real change, we know we need to demonstrate progress. The hard part is how you measure that—how to show it’s because we worked together that things improved. So we hired JVA to go out and capture those stories to show that impact we are working to achieve. We had quantities data, but we didn’t have anecdotal data to help us demonstrate the full impact. JVA helped us find those stories and paired them with the quantitative data.
“Finally, we held a policy summit to identify the top four priorities to help us move our work forward, as we know policy is a huge piece of how we make the changes and ensure they are long lasting. JVA is helping us take a deep dive into actionable steps to help move those big-picture policy efforts forward.”
6. What else would you want to share with us that we haven’t asked?
“Being a nonprofit, we want all of our resources to go to children and families, but sometimes we have to decide to commit resources to hiring a consultant who can help us dive deeper and to help us communicate about the work we are doing. That will hopefully bring more awareness and investment so we can further our work with children and families.
“It’s money well spent, and we believe having an outside consultant with capacity beyond ours will really help us take our work to a higher level. I think staff capacity is always missing in the nonprofit world, so to be able to hire someone to do that is just amazing. It’s allowing me to do these things that always get put on the backburner—it’s not going to be pushed once more to next month.
“Also, working closely with Silvia around transcreation was a way to really make sure we are doing this in a very culturally responsive way, and being really intentional about that has been really important as well.”
Keep up with the area’s most inspiring changemakers—read JVA’s Changemakers blog!