by Julia Yeary, Project Director, Military Families Projects
How many people can actually say they get paid to do their heart’s work? I cannot adequately express how grateful I am!
I first joined ZERO TO THREE in 2005 as a consultant. I had just finished 3 years as director of the New Parent Support Program on a Marine Corps base in California. We had just move to Wisconsin because of my husband’s new assignment at the Military Entrance Processing Command. Being in a military family, especially with the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, meant a lot of stress! I really wasn’t looking for a job, my husband was gone 80% of the time, and I thought I would focus on my kids. Lynette Fraga was director of the new Military Family Projects, and she asked if I would help her as a consultant, just part time. Of course, she shared I was “perfect” with my military background and knowledge of infant and early childhood mental health. I said yes because I really felt the mission was so important, and it was just a few hours a week. Within 6 months, I was working full time with Lynette and Dorinda Williams supporting civilian early childhood education programs to better understand the needs of military-connected children in their care.
I remember a story from a site I worked with at Fort Carson in Colorado. The teacher shared with me that the entire classroom of children was falling apart! It was no wonder because 90% of them had a parent deploy to war. Some of the children had both parents leave. There was little prep time, and no one was sure how long the deployment into the warzone would last. Helping professionals who served military families better understand the impact of trauma and high stress wasn’t always easy. Even those who were working with babies and toddlers every day didn’t understand the way chronic unrelenting stress can alter brain architecture. They weren’t thinking about how the children were feeling like their world had turned upside down. They still thought little ones wouldn’t remember. And they didn’t understand why there was so much hitting, biting, kicking, hiding, and crying.
Those early years were busy. We supported seven Early Head Start sites in developing their programs to support military families. We trained 14 National Guard Family Programs about the needs of infants and toddlers as their parents dealt with combat deployments. We worked with 65 military installations and medical centers around the world. And we developed many resources for military and veteran families.
I remember when I started, I was one of the first “off-site” staff members. Now, most people at ZERO TO THREE are off-site, and almost everyone has some involvement with others via long-distance communication. Of course, they didn’t have video conferencing when I started! We’ve come a long way as an organization recognizing just how much can be done with staff no matter where they live, because, I believe, of a shared vision and passion!
Developing relationships with others is probably one of my superpowers. To me, this is the JOY in my work, connecting with others! There are so many of us that are passionate about this work and our connections trigger energy that helps to fuel new innovative approaches to it. I was in awe of the knowledge and skills of my teammates; and getting to meet board members—I felt so honored! I remember when I was pretty new and got to meet Dr. Joy Osofsky. We chatted about military babies and toddlers and what they needed. This amazing, accomplished, world-renowned researcher cared about what I was thinking! And Dr. Alicia Lieberman wanted to work with us on developing our resources. And then there was the time Mathew Melmed asked me to “stay with Barry and make sure he doesn’t need anything” at our National Training Institute—Barry being Dr. T. Barry Brazelton. What an unforgettable evening and what an honor! At our last Family Dinner at the 2019 Annual Conference, I was able to share with Jeree Pawl, my favorite early childhood philosopher, how meaningful her writing was to my work. There are too many other encounters to mention. Being at ZERO TO THREE allowed me an opportunity to engage with giants in our field.
I would come to the office and have an opportunity to chat with others in the hallways, discussing how we could solve the problems of the world. I felt I had so many amazing thought partners, like Dorinda Williams, Kathy Mulrooney, Rebecca Parlakian, Nancy Seibel, and Linda Gillespie to name just a few. I always love discussing possibilities with the Development team, especially Kiki Koerner. I loved stopping in the Finance team’s hallway to say hi—they are the sweethearts of our organization and seem always ready to help! I also loved getting to work with the Products and Innovations Division, and actually helped with the development of their training for The Growing Brain . The HealthySteps National Office actually made me an official family member of their team—I am the “cousin.” Our HR department always supported my “creative thinking” as I queried them and sought support. I think Military Family Projects was able to work with almost every department in some way over the years. I received supervision from Janice Im, but really was able to use my time with her in reflective consultation, brainstorming approaches to deepening our work on behalf of military-connected babies, toddlers, and their families. My favorite time, though, was spending time with Mathew Melmed. From the moment I started with ZERO TO THREE, Mathew always made me feel as though the work I was doing was so very important to our organization.
The pandemic has been rough on us all, yet the work continues. I remain in awe of the Military Family Projects team members, Summer Jones and Jennifer Novak. They simply pivoted and seamlessly transitioned training to include topics to help professionals we work with better address COVID-19 and the pandemic with the families they serve. They continue to work tirelessly on behalf of babies and toddlers, constantly thinking of new approaches to address the needs. I have been honored to work alongside them developing exemplary professional training and resources like our Babies on the Homefront mobile app.
I am particularly proud of the work I have been able to do recently with the help of Jim Bialick and Policy. We were asked to contribute our thoughts about the needs of children in military families to go along with a proposed bill to expand child development centers on military installations. I, along with Kathy Mulrooney and Jennifer Boss, helped write language for a bill that has been introduced in both the House and Senate as bipartisan bills. How cool is that?!
Now it is time to say farewell. I will be retiring on December 31. Being a part of the ZERO TO THREE family has allowed me to do what I love. I truly feel I have been able to accomplish so much because I never had to do anything alone. Many of those who supported me in my work are no longer at ZERO TO THREE, and I honor their contributions to any success I experienced. Although I just attended my last Annual Conference as a staff member and so many other “lasts” will be occurring in the next few weeks, I won’t say goodbye to family. In Hawaii where I grew up, we say aloha, a hui hou—farewell, we’ll meet again!
Learn more about the ongoing work of Military Families Projects.