Child advocacy group marks 25 years


Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A Rocky Mount-based nonprofit agency has passed the quarter-century mark of working to make sure children in the Twin Counties are healthy and lifelong learners by the time they complete the third grade.

The Down East Partnership for Children turned 25 in early December. Henrietta Zalkind has been the partnership’s executive director since just months after the agency was established. 

"I'm just thrilled at the progress that we have made, that we have launched a whole generation and that we're preparing the next generation to be the leaders that will continue to build our community's talent pipeline," Zalkind said. "The kids that we started with are now 25 years old — and many of them are coming back to put their hands on the task now. They're the parent. They're having their own kids — and so this is a task and a mission that is ongoing."

Down East's work centers around what Zalkind called the four building blocks of early education:

■ Ensuring health and development are on track beginning before the child's birth.

■ Ensuring families are engaged and communities are coordinated.

■ Ensuring care and education are high quality.

■ Ensuring teaching and learning environments for K-3 students are effective inside and outside for 365 days a year.

Zalkind said the partnership does all of this with lots of help from many people across Edgecombe and Nash counties through networks of different leaders and child care providers and the public schools.

The agency was established by people concerned about education and economic development in the two counties, particularly given bleak data about infant mortality, child abuse and neglect and low graduation rates.

Zalkind said the partnership started with a vision the Twin Counties' children could be successful if they were surrounded by united and supportive communities.

At the time the partnership was being founded, she worked for the local legal services program and was part of the planning to launch the partnership.

“This was a job that the business community encouraged me to take,” she said. “And I thought I would come and set this up and go back to being a lawyer. And 25 years later, I am still doing it.”

She said after the partnership was formed, the agency, after a previous unsuccessful try, was able to obtain funding from the Smart Start program to help increase the quality of early child care and education in Nash and Edgecombe counties.

Since then, the partnership has gradually grown into an agency with an approximately $6.5 million budget and which last year served slightly more than 16,100 children.

Zalkind said the partnership has a list of plans to celebrate the agency's 25th anniversary, with the main event being a fundraiser from 7-10 p.m. April 25 in the Power House at Rocky Mount Mills.

She also spoke extensively about plans to have a second golf tournament fundraiser.

The event, called the FORE Every Child Golf Classic, is going to be at The Links at Cotton Valley in Tarboro, with registration set for noon on April 12.

She emphasized the partnership does much work through the agency’s business partners to help them and their employees find high-quality child care.

Since 1996, Down East has been located off Lexington Street in the old YWCA building.

Zalkind is originally from Philadelphia. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in political science and earned her law degree from Northeastern School of Law in Boston.

She worked as an attorney in legal services in Rhode Island and Vermont. She said she came to the area to do consulting work when the school systems were merging, stayed for a few days and stayed a while longer.

Zalkind lives in Raleigh and works at home by phone at times and commutes at times to Down East.

“And actually, it’s not a bad commute at all,” she said.