I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Rosie Rodriguez, director of Philanthropy at The Lower Eastside Girls Club and a founding member of the Clinton Foundation’s 20/30 Network – our program to engage young professionals in our work and inspire them to take action in their own communities. We spoke at a Clinton Foundation Day of Action this week in service of our early childhood initiative, Too Small to Fail, which aims to help parents across the country turn everyday moments, like bedtime, mealtime or diaper time, into learning moments.
It’s critical, more than ever, that we take action to make the changes we hope to see in our world.
One in three American families struggle to provide diapers for their baby. Many of those households also struggle to access and provide books – with one study showing that in low-income communities, there is an average of one book per 300 children.
That’s what made this Day of Action so important – we came together to make a difference on this critical issue in the community where we live. Together, we bundled packs of more than 5,000 diapers and 1,000 new children’s books that will be distributed to the South Bronx community through The HopeLine. The project is in support of the CGI Commitment – “Talk, Read, Sing for Change: Promoting Children’s Early Literacy Development through Diaper Banks,” made by Too Small and the National Diaper Bank Network in partnership with Penguin Young Readers and Huggies.
Rosie and I covered kids, diaper need, how young people can effect change, and closing the imagination gap with a message to empower young girls—check out our conversation below!
Rosie: We’re here today with Too Small to Fail, which emphasizes talking, reading, and singing with young children, even at diaper time. How do you incorporate that philosophy into your experience as a mother?
Chelsea: I talk to my kids all the time. And one of the funny knock-on effects of that is I now just talk out loud all the time. So sometimes even after they’ve gone to bed, as my husband and I are making dinner, I say “and now I’m pulling out the pot.” I realize I don’t need to be narrating this to Marc – I mean I can, he’s happy to hear it – but I talk to my children all the time. I use every moment available to engage with them. It’s so crucially important that parents, and caregivers more broadly, know that every word really matters. Whether you’re making a meal, changing a diaper, putting them to bed. Reading, singing, talking to them – it all helps grow their brains and helps them develop as little people.
Rosie: Tonight we are bundling packages of diapers, books, and educational resources for parents who may lack the resources to buy them. Why do you feel this is so important?
Chelsea: For two reasons. The first is, we know that the diaper gap is real. Many low income families can spend upwards of 10%, even 15% of their annual income on diapers alone. Making a difference there – so they don’t have to worry about diapers, but also so they can invest those resources in other things and opportunities for their children or their families – is hugely important.
The second is to help parents know how important it is to talk, read, and sing to their kids. A lot of parents don’t know. Particularly with a newborn who is just sleeping, eating, peeing and pooping – it’s sometimes hard to think, “oh my gosh, I should still be reading and talking to this little munchkin, even if she or he isn’t responding yet.” So by just helping parents know that diaper time, and really any time, that they can be engaging with their kids, even newborns, is important.
Rosie: So many people like myself are passionate, eager, and want to give back, and sometimes you don’t know where to start. How can we get started?
Chelsea: Each of us has to think about what really inspires us, what comes to us, what we’re passionate about, what makes us angry, and where we can be engaged to make a difference. There are so many ways in which the gift of time, particularly in a well-organized group, can have a big impact. Whether that’s packaging diapers and books like we’re doing today, or working with food banks or delivery services. We just hope that anyone of any age who has the ability to give time will give time, and will engage to make a difference in our community here in New York City on whatever issue they feel most passionate about.
Rosie: For me personally, I’m a mentor, a volunteer, and work at Lower Eastside Girls Club as the director of philanthropy – we connect girls and women in New York City to healthy and successful futures. A lot of our girls are looking at what’s going on across the country and are wondering how to feel empowered to achieve their dreams. What’s your advice to them?
Chelsea: One, I think it’s great that they are in a community where they have so many mentors and role models through the Lower Eastside Girls Club – to see examples of what they can become because I think it’s so hard for any of us to imagine what we can’t see. That is something that you do so well [at the Lower Eastside Girls Club]. You close that imagination gap.
I think at this moment in time I would hope that they are not afraid to stand up and speak out even though there is a lot to be worried about. And there is a lot to fear. I hope they know that the best way to combat that fear, and that worry, and channel that energy, is to engage—to talk to their friends and families, to protest, to call their local representatives and congress people, our senators, our mayor, our governor. Even if they’re not old enough to vote, many of them will be by the next election. So they should raise their voices and ensure that they are being heard. Whether that’s on the streets, or on the phone, or online, or hopefully all of the above.
Rosie: Our girls are definitely raising their voices and being activists in their community, and we are raising the next generation of women leaders, so this is good for them.
Chelsea: Remember don’t get tired. We can’t afford to get tired. We have to recognize that we might be in a place of moral outrage for a long time to come. Because if the last days have been a harbinger of what’s to come, there’s going to be a lot for us to be outraged about. So whether we’re thinking about women’s rights, workers’ rights, LGBT rights, or economic rights. Whether we’re thinking about equity, inequality, protecting the progress, or building on the progress. There’s a lot that we’re going to need to stand up for.
Rosie: That is why I’m glad we’re here today. Making a difference and taking action. So thank you again for talking with me.
Chelsea: Thank you for being here.