Investments in Early Childhood Education (ECE) have the power to change the trajectory of individual lives and entire families, as well as deliver significant returns for the community. Access to high-quality early childhood experiences sets children and their families up for long-term success by:
Preparing children for school and lifelong learning
Providing support of child development and general well-being
Equipping parents to be their children’s best first teachers
These investments are all the more important as young children recover from pandemic impacts and the Richmond region contends with a widespread lack of affordable, accessible child care. To that end, we are pleased to announce the following grantee partners for our second ECE-focused grant cycle which totaled $780,000:
VPM Media – $50,000 for VPM Early Childhood Education program
“From preschool programs to home visiting to parenting support and education, these organizations work tirelessly to ensure our region’s youngest children get the best start,” shares Robins Foundation President & CEO, Chris Chin. “We’re grateful for their efforts and delighted to support them.”
Robins Foundation is thrilled to announce that Meg Pienkowski, Ph.D., is joining the foundation as Senior Program Officer, Early Childhood Education. A passionate leader and advocate for children and families, Meg brings decades of experience in early childhood education and a deep belief in the power of this work to transform children, families, and communities.
“Meg is an enormously talented leader and a true champion for children,” said Chris Chin, Ph.D., President and CEO of Robins Foundation. “She brings a breadth and depth of knowledge and experience, as well as relationships and credibility from her deep work in the Richmond community. As Robins Foundation advances our strategic focus in early childhood, we are extremely excited to welcome Meg to our team.”
Meg is the former Vice President of Community Partnerships and Programs for Thrive Birth to 5 (formerly Smart Beginnings-Greater Richmond), an affiliate of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. She also served as a W.K. Kellogg Fellow and Project Management Analyst in the Office of Community Wealth Building for the City of Richmond. Prior to that, Dr. Pienkowski spent many years in the classroom as an educator and administrator with Hanover County Public Schools, Richmond Public Schools, and Gingerbread Cottage Preschool. She began her career as a preschool teacher at the Harold E. Jones Child Study Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Meg earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in Developmental Education from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Ph.D. in Education: Curriculum, Culture, and Change from Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I’m thrilled to be joining Robins Foundation because of their strong track record in early childhood education and their commitment to this community,” explained Meg. “We share a belief in the power of early childhood education to change the trajectory of people’s lives and make a significant impact on our communities.”
Robins Foundation envisions a vibrant and unified Richmond, in which our children are prepared for bright futures, our communities are culturally enriched, and our region grows as a positive and dynamic place to live. For children to have the best opportunity to thrive, they require access to high-quality early care and educational experiences, as well as stable families who can act as their first teachers. Robins Foundation’s work in early childhood education is focused in three areas: provider support and infrastructure, parenting support and engagement, and policy and advocacy.
“Robins Foundation has sought out the foremost leaders in the field of early childhood education to support our work,” explained Juliet E. Shield-Taylor, Chair of Robins Foundation’s Board of Directors. “Meg’s impeccable academic background speaks for itself, and her dedication and contributions to our community have earned her the trust and respect of early childhood professionals throughout our region. For anyone who has the chance to meet her, Meg’s passion as an advocate for children is clear. We can’t wait to see the impact she will make in this role.”
For children to have the opportunity to thrive, they require access to high-quality early care and educational experiences, as well as supportive families. These factors can deeply influence children’s cognitive and social-emotional development, school readiness, and long-term wellbeing.
Toward the end of last year we shared that Robins Foundation would be investing deeply, and more narrowly, in early childhood education (ECE). Since then we have launched our initial ECE-focused grant cycle, had numerous conversations with our nonprofit partners, and reviewed dozens of proposals aligned with our new strategic framework. We are pleased to announce the following grantee partners for our first ECE-focused grant cycle which totaled almost $900,000:
“All of these organizations have demonstrated a strong commitment to and have an impressive track record in early childhood education,” shares Robins Foundation President & CEO, Chris Chin. “We’re delighted to invest in their efforts to make a significant impact for Richmond families.”
Toward the end of last year we shared that Robins Foundation would be investing deeply, and more narrowly, in early childhood education (ECE). This new strategic direction is well underway, and we are actively engaging with and investing in organizations addressing the ECE needs in our community. Last week we announced the 15 nonprofit organizations who will receive grant funding totaling almost $900,000 as part of our June 2022 ECE cycle. We are also defining and building out our framework to begin investing in nonprofits making Richmond a vibrant and dynamic place to live.
As we’re settling into our new strategy, we’re seeing a natural evolution of our team:
Chris Chin has embraced his new role as President & CEO and is fostering stronger alignment, enhanced communication, and deeper relationships among board and staff members.
Dan Halloran has been promoted to Director, Operations.
Elliot Haspel shared that he will be relocating to Colorado at the end of July to be closer to family and leaving Robins Foundation later this fall.
We announced an opportunity to join our team as Senior Program Officer, Early Childhood Education.
Courtney Rice shared that she will be leaving Robins Foundation on July 22nd for an exciting career development opportunity. She hopes to share more details in the coming weeks.
We recognize that this is a significant amount of change in a short period of time for a small organization. We are more committed than ever to supporting our partners as you continue your amazing work in our community. And we are excited for and supportive of our team members as they grow and transition within and beyond the Foundation.
Please join me in congratulating our team members and spreading the word about our open position!
Robins Foundation’s new strategic direction is well underway, and we are actively engaging with and investing in organizations addressing the early childhood education (ECE) needs in our community. In fact, next week we will announce the 15 nonprofit organizations who will receive grant funding totaling almost $900,000 as part of our June 2022 ECE cycle. We are also defining and building out our framework to begin investing in nonprofits making Richmond a vibrant and dynamic place to live.
To fully execute our Board’s new strategic direction, we have developed a streamlined staffing structure that sets us up for success and provides well-deserved opportunities for team members to step up and shine in new ways. To that end, we are delighted to announce the following promotion:
Dan Halloran has been promoted to Director, Operations. Since starting with Robins six years ago as an intern, Dan has quickly developed and mastered a wide range of knowledge and skills related to our “behind the scenes” operations needs and requirements. For the past three years, Dan was our Program and Grants Manager. Now, in his new role, Dan will continue his Program and Grants Manager duties while also taking on new administrative responsibilities related to budgeting, human resources, office management, and various other internal processes that are essential to the Foundation’s success.
We also want to announce an opportunity to join our team, as we are looking to fill an upcoming opening for a Senior Program Officer, Early Childhood Education. Elliot Haspel, our current Senior Program Officer, will be relocating to Colorado at the end of July to be closer to family and leaving Robins Foundation later this fall. Elliot has played an integral role in developing our early childhood strategic framework and overseeing our early childhood grant-making portfolio, and we will sincerely miss him. As a nationally-recognized child & family policy expert and commentator and the author of Crawling Behind: America’s Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It, we have no doubt Elliot will be hugely successful in his new ventures.
If you know someone who may be interested in this opportunity at Robins Foundation, please share the job description with them.
Chris Chin named Robins Foundation’s new CEO – will lead Early Childhood Focus
Juliet Shield-Taylor, Chair, Board of Directors announced that Dr. Christopher Chin will become the President and CEO of Robins Foundation, effective March 2, 2022. An experienced leader in philanthropy, child development, and nonprofit organizations, he will focus on launching the foundation’s new strategic framework centered on early childhood education.
Chris has devoted his educational and professional career to helping young children and their families and is well poised to lead the organization into a new phase of early childhood-focused impact in the community. He is a licensed clinical psychologist with his PhD in Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology, including advanced training at Yale University in child psychology. He has led several efforts focused on early childhood education and family literacy, including serving as Co-Director of the Literacy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University and Director of the Virginia Literacy Foundation, where he developed and oversaw state-wide initiatives focused on early learning and development.
Chris has been with Robins Foundation for almost eight years, starting as Director, Community Partnerships, leading the foundation’s early childhood-focused grantmaking. He was responsible for developing peer funder collaborations and deep community engagement throughout the Richmond region. Most recently, he served as the foundation’s Vice President, Operations and Organizational Development.
Says Chin, “I am thrilled and honored to lead this organization as it begins the next exciting chapter in its longstanding service to the Richmond community. We have an incredible opportunity to strengthen our investments and partnerships in early childhood education so that Richmond can become a place where all young children can learn, grow, and thrive. This next step for me and the foundation reflects my long-standing passion and commitment to make a meaningful difference in the lives of as many children and families as possible. I look forward to working alongside our energized Board, our talented staff, and our inspirational partners to make a measurable impact on our community.”
Kelly Chopus, Robins Foundation’s current President & CEO, will be moving on from the organization in late March.
As CEO of Robins Foundation for almost 8.5 years, Kelly has been a change-maker in the community, leading the organization through strategic shifts and building a talented team of experts. Her leadership has been influential in enhancing the landscape of Richmond’s nonprofit community through open dialog, relationship-building, and collaboration with other funders to address the region’s most pressing needs.
Kelly will remain with the Foundation in an advisory capacity until the end of March. Kelly looks forward to continuing to serve both Richmond and the region’s philanthropic community in a new capacity.
Says Chopus, “I am humbled by the trust the board, staff, and community placed in me and I am more humbled by the experiences and privileges of meeting and knowing community leaders who serve their neighbors every day through the work their organizations do. I am truly amazed by the work of our board, our staff, and our partners. The foundation has a powerhouse staff who will carry on the upcoming important work as the foundation refines its focus, and I am thrilled about the future impact of the organization. Chris Chin is the right leader at the right time, and I have utmost confidence in him as he steps into the role of CEO.”
Robert Dortch, Robins Foundation’s current VP, Program and Community Innovation, will leave the organization in mid-February.
For almost 8 years, Robert focused on growing a highly-skilled, diverse program team and strengthening the foundation’s innovative grantmaking, community engagement, and collaboration.
Robert has played an enormous role, leading the foundation’s deployment of more than $30 million in grant funding to support education, capacity building, innovation and strategic partnerships; helped create $4.5 million of impact investment to support place-based community initiatives; and led the foundation in innovative grantmaking, launching a Community Innovation Grant (CIG) process that resulted in more than $6 million distributed.
We are enthusiastic about the significant impact Robert will continue to have for the region in his new role as Chair for the Board of Trustees of Philanthropy Southeast.
“I am grateful for my time working with the Robins Foundation’s incredible staff and inspiring partners,” says Dortch, “and I am excited for this opportunity to have a bigger impact outside the organization, pursue a personal passion, and continue to give back to our partners and philanthropy as a whole.”
Juliet Shield-Taylor, Chair of the Board of Directors added, “The Robins Foundation is grateful for the vision and leadership of Kelly and her team, and we are thrilled to welcome Chris as our next leader. While we are sad to see Robert leave us, we wish him well as he pursues his professional and personal interests.”
Continuing a legacy of impact and transformation for our community’s children
Over the past eight years, with the hard work of staff and skilled guidance of the board, Robins Foundation has been committed to strategic grantmaking, collaboration, and community support, aspiring to be a catalyst for positive change within the Richmond region.
We are grateful to our leaders and staff members for the impact they have had on the foundation’s direction and success. Under the leadership of Chris Chin and the Foundation’s Board of Directors, we look forward to new opportunities to ensure our young children thrive and to contribute to the long-term dynamism and vibrancy of Richmond.
A question I am often asked is, “why is child care so expensive, if child care teachers are paid so little?” The child care crisis in the Richmond region very much mirrors that of the nation – spots for kids are scarce and often incredibly expensive. At the same time, compensation is so low that these facilities cannot find enough staff members, forcing programs and facilities to run below capacity. Given how key early childhood education is for both working parents and child development, it is important to understand the structural pressures causing this failing system, and where we go from here.
“One fundamental that predates the pandemic and its ripple effects is the cost of doing business in a highly constrained industry. In most states, for instance, one teacher is permitted under the law to care for a maximum of six to eight toddlers. Personnel eats up 70 percent or more of program budgets. So even though parents are paying through the nose, the true cost of care — the cost where programs are operating comfortably and compensating their staff well — is so high that programs would take a loss on each kid. As it stands, programs already have to cut wages to the bone just to keep the lights on. To keep pace with other industries, their only option (other than public funding or closure) is massively raising prices — hence, [child care may become] a luxury good. The U.S. Treasury Department has called the child-care business model “unworkable.”
In Virginia, the median wage of a child care worker is $10.96 an hour. That rate is far below a living wage for Virginia, and drives significant turnover among child care workers. Teacher to child ratios – which ensure safety and quality — are 1:4 for infants (i.e., 1 teacher for every 4 infants), 1:5 for kids between sixteen months and two years, 1:8 for two-year-olds, and 1:10 for three- and four-year-olds. When you consider the diminishing number of child care workers compared to the number of children who need care, you begin to see the problem. This is why most of metro Richmond is considered to be a “child care desert.”
The staffing shortages are making an already difficult-to-locate resource close to impossible. This summer, I helped Smart Beginnings-Greater Richmond and a coalition of other early childhood partners put out a survey to local child care providers. As reported in the Virginia Mercury in June, the survey “found that — of the 26 child care programs they’ve reached so far — 85 percent reported staffing shortages. In total, there were 114 open teaching positions across all of the facilities.” This represents only a sliver of the programs in the region, and by all reports, shortages have only grown worse since then.
Help may be on the way in the form of the federal government’s Build Back Better package, which contains considerable levels of permanent funding for child care and pre-K. However, even if that legislation passes, there will be a tremendous amount of work to do in order to implement the new system well. Staff will need to be recruited, facilities upgraded, and an administrative infrastructure put into place that allows parents to easily access choices which meet their needs and preferences. None of these elements will be swift or simple. And if the legislation does not pass, there will be all the more need for local and state governments to step up.
Robins Foundation stands ready to support these efforts. Our priorities include directly supporting high-quality child care programs and the nonprofits that work to generate that local infrastructure, supporting the advocacy and policy work to ensure that the laws impacting the Richmond region are strong and fair, and supporting parents of young children in accessing the services that are available to them to be the best possible ‘first teacher’ for their children.
This is a moment of both uncertainty and possibility for Richmond’s young children and their families. We must meet the moment with conviction and clear-eyed vision for both the short- and long-term. If we succeed, we can positively change the trajectory of our region’s future and the lives of its children.
But imagine that in addition to the above challenges, you did not have the money or the technology for an internet connection at home this past year. Imagine you had difficulties accessing a computer with which your child could attend school, or that you did not have the money to feed them lunch every day. Imagine helping your child, or someone else’s child, succeed at virtual school under all these circumstances, while more family members and friends than you could count on your two hands became sick or died of COVID-19.
We learned directly from our School System Administrator partners and from families participating in the Richmond Resilience Initiative that many members of our own community navigated these challenges from March 2020 until now. These scenarios highlight why many of our students and educators will be returning to school in September dealing with some level of trauma.
A recent study conducted by our policy partner, The Commonwealth Institute (TCI) found that “[m]any students, particularly those whose parents could not afford private supports, have fallen behind in the virtual learning environment.” Another study cited by TCI “suggests that an additional investment of roughly $10,000 per student in school divisions with high concentrations of students living in poverty, Black and Latinx students, and English Learners is required to make up for lost learning time during the pandemic.”
The lost learning time cited by TCI must be addressed; however, a broader and more far-reaching concern is the social and emotional well-being of our students and educators. Recent studies confirm the depth of the damage caused to mental health across the country because of the pandemic. In fact, damage to mental health is being viewed, and prepared for, as the “next pandemic”.
Hearing directly from community partners, school division leaders and striving families offers a window into the collective trauma experienced over the past year and a half, particularly for communities of color and those living in poverty.
One common theme we hear is the resilience of families in the face of broken support systems. A partner at the YMCA described the humbling experience of working with parents in our community who were forced to choose between keeping their employment and keeping their children in school. Families showed creativity and determination, going to great lengths to keep their children logged-in and learning during the pandemic. For example, in the absence of access to home internet or programs that would help bridge such gaps, a common occurrence in communities of color, several parents of school-aged children came together to rent a motel room where their children could connect to wifi and log on for classes each day.
Another common theme of these collected stories is the pressure put on teachers to manage the mental and emotional wellbeing of their students, even as they are dealing with personal hardship and trauma. One of our school administrator partners lost 18 friends and family members to the pandemic, a level of loss many of our Black, Hispanic or low-income students experienced as well. Both educators and students will be carrying the impact of these losses, and their grief, with them as they reenter school.
We invite our partners and peer funders to join us in reflecting on ways we can address the educational losses created by the pandemic, while reevaluating educational priorities to address the disruption, trauma and stress experienced by our educators, our students and their families over the past 18 months.
As Robins Foundation’s VP of Program and Community Innovation, Robert Dortch, states, “We have to think differently, fund differently, lead differently, act differently, advocate differently, use our power and influence differently if we’re going to change the outcomes for children and families who are suffering.” Whether it is creating more opportunities for social and emotional learning and trauma-informed curriculum, partnering with our local government to create mobile health services, or other solutions, the Robins Foundation will be thinking differently about how to impact and influence educational recovery in our post-pandemic world.
Robins Foundation partners with organizations like Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME) because positive educational outcomes for children depend on a number of criteria, including housing stability. Children in families with stable housing attend school more consistently, tend to perform better academically and experience less stress.
Families across Richmond deserve a home in a safe neighborhood, access to good jobs, access to good schools, and the ability to build financial stability. HOME’s mission is to ensure equal access to housing for all people. Since 1971 their work has opened doors for thousands.
To accomplish this, they focus their efforts in three key areas:
Fair housing enforcement
Housing counseling and education
Housing research and policy
Help support HOME so they can continue doing this important work.
Donate to support initiatives such as stopping evictions and preventing foreclosures
Become a tester to help identify unlawful housing discrimination based on race, national origin, disability, or familial status