To celebrate Mother’s Day, we’re showcasing the voices and stories of some of our moms at First Focus on Children. Host Messellech Looby shares the mic with First Focus on Children’s Vice President for Early Childhood and Public Health Policy Averi Pakulis, Vice President of Operations Trenessa Freeman, and Vice President of Advocacy and Mobilization Leila Nimatallah to chat about their experiences as moms and the policy challenges they face in their homes and on The Hill. As mothers, they grapple with the idea that their children are growing up in a society that is rolling back hard-won victories for moms and children. As policy wonks, they reflect on the important work they do to secure federal policies that support children and families and the many challenges that lie ahead. 

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Bruce Lesley  0:03  

Messellech, what is your dream Mother’s Day either as a mom or as a kid? 

Selley Looby  0:09  

That’s a great question. I don’t really have a lot of say in the matter of what. So I don’t know. I think for me my dream Mother’s Day would probably be a mix of some solitude to get up and enjoy a cup of coffee,

Bruce Lesley  0:23  

peace and quiet. Yeah,

Selley Looby  0:25  

every year. It’s a new adventure. But I will say it does feel good if you’re running an errand or if you need to go to the grocery store and the number of people that really stopped to say Happy Mother’s Day

Bruce Lesley  0:34  

and everyone should do that.

Selley Looby  0:36  

You kind of feel special. Yeah, yeah, moms are superheroes for real. So.

Bruce Lesley  0:46  

From First Focus on Children. This is Speaking of Kids. I’m Bruce Lesley,

Selley Looby  0:50  

and I’m Messellech Looby. Speaking of Kids is a podcast that puts kids at the center of public policy.

Bruce Lesley  0:59  

Today, we’re excited to be having a discussion with some of our team at First Focus on Children.

Selley Looby  1:06  

Averi Pakulis serves as Vice President for Early Childhood and Public Health Policy. She’s worked for nearly six years in the House of Representatives in the personal office of Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who has also been a guest of ours on Speaking of Kids, you should check out her episode

Bruce Lesley  1:21  

and Trenessa Freeman is our heroic Director of Operations at First Focus on Children providing day to day support and guidance to our team.

Selley Looby  1:30  

I invited these two amazing moms to join me for a conversation and a deeper dive at the state of motherhood today, and the role that motherhood plays as it relates to children and families. Welcome Trenessa and Averi, to Speaking of Kids.

Averi Pakulis  1:46  

Thanks for having us.

Trenessa Freeman  1:47  

Thank you for having us.

Selley Looby  1:49  

This is a treat. This is going to be a fun episode to all of our listeners. This is a special Mother’s Day episode. And we have two of our resident mamas a First Focus on the podcast. And between the three of us we have nine children. And so Trenessa I will let you go first because we have to do some deductive reasoning to figure out who has how many children? How many do you have? ,

Trenessa Freeman  2:12  

Well, I am blessed with four beautiful children. I have two girls, two boys, excuse me. Two women. Excuse me? No, my youngest is a girl. She’s 17 I have a 20 year old son 35 year old son and my oldest daughter is 37. And as a bonus, I also have two beautiful grandbabies who are three and almost

Selley Looby  2:40  

eight. Averi, what about you?

Averi Pakulis  2:43  

I can hardly compete with that I have two daughters who are six and nearly double digit 10. And tennis I can’t believe your grandchildren are not old. Remember when they were little even littler, they are still

Selley Looby  2:59  

that is wild. And as you both know, I have three a one year old son, a five year old son and also an almost eight year old daughter. And so we have we have a lot of experience and knowledge on parenting and motherhood on this call at all different levels from the crazy toddlers could Trenessa you’re experiencing now for the second time in life to adults. But in today’s episode, we’re really going to be talking about the role of government and really society’s role in supporting mothers and children and families across the country. When we look at the state of mental health today, it looks very different than I think for all three of us what we’ve experienced. As you both know, in June 2022, the US Supreme Court went against protecting fundamental rights and overturned Roe versus Wade, meaning there’s really no federal constitutional right to an abortion right now, as it relates to maternal mortality that has been on the rise in the United States for the last several years. And there’s, you know, an even bigger impact for black women, we are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes. And the CDC has reported that 84% of these pregnancy related deaths are thought to be preventable. The thing that connects all of us is we have girls, we have daughters, and we are now living in a world where this looks different maternal health and reproductive rights looks very different for our children than it did for us. Trenessa. Do you want to start with sharing? How do you feel about this as it relates to your girls and then also for society, what this means for families and children across the country.

Trenessa Freeman  4:41  

I hadn’t given a lot of thought to reproductive rights. When I was in the midst of reproducing. I felt like I had access to what I needed. And so I just didn’t give a lot of thought to it. Fast forward to now, when I think about my daughter ers. It stresses me out not having access to reproductive rights is, you know, I don’t want to make it bigger than it is. But it’s, it’s big. And it scares me. It scares me. I don’t like it. I’m not sure what to do, but I’m sure something has to be done. Yeah, that’s where I am right now. I would like for my daughters and my granddaughters in all women to have the same access to health care that I have had not less. And I feel like that’s what that decision did to us it, it removed access, so it feels less safe. And so now there’s work to be done.

Selley Looby  5:45  

Averi, how about you?

Averi Pakulis  5:46  

Yeah, I agree with everything Trenessa just said, I would say that as a parent, we always want and expect the world to be a better place when our kids are the age we are now or you know, later in their lives. And we don’t expect policies, access to health care and things that are vital to go backwards. And that feels like we’re in that place right now. Maternal mortality rates are worsening, as the years go on, they are becoming more desperate, black women, as you already said, are in an even riskier place than they have been in the past. And that just feels wrong and backwards. And as Trenessa said, our work is cut out for us, we’ve got a lot of work to do to reverse those trends. And as a parent, it’s devastating to think that our kids might have less access to health care than then we have had. And that is wholly unexpected, and it’s backwards. So I agree that it’s scary. I think there are great, smart, energetic people out there who are working really hard on all of these maternal health problems that we’re facing. And so I firmly believe that they can and will be addressed and improved. But to have setbacks is pretty tough to take, because we’ve already done that work. Right. So we thought, you know, check we were moving on. But that’s not always how, how progress happens, I guess.

Selley Looby  7:09  

Yeah, it was interesting to live through. Because to your point, every something that had been in place for so long, you almost take it for granted. And I think Trenessa you you shared that too, you would never think that, you know we’d be living in such kind of a time where, like you said even even maternal outcomes, maternal health outcomes after childbirth are looking scarier and scarier. And, you know, I’m not no, it leads us to talk about paid family leave, where there’s, again, another real void at the federal level in terms of, you know, regulations. Currently, there’s no federal laws regarding paid family leave. And this is important for every woman, mother, family. This is not only you know, directly related to mothers and family, but it’s a family economics issue. We currently have a colleague care about dari who leads our family economics and child poverty work that is currently on leave. And mainly she’s able to access paid family leave, we have a policy at First Focus. I mean, being a child advocacy organization, we have a paid family leave in place. But we also are based in DC where in July 2020, DC workers were able to apply for paid family leave, which covers two weeks of care for your pregnancy 12 weeks to bond with a new baby 12 weeks to care for, you know your own serious health outcomes that may have occurred postpartum. What were your experiences with paid family leave? Averi, we can start with you. Paid

Averi Pakulis  8:37  

family leave, as you just said is important for mothers, fathers caregivers of all kinds. I also lived in DC when I had my first child, but earlier than our colleague Cara did. And so I was a federal employee at the time and there was no paid family leave. So I did what a lot of people did, which is pull together the vacation time I built up sick time that I built up and took that and then took some unpaid leave, which I was able to do for a few weeks. But not everybody can. That’s not a reality for everybody. It did not feel like a welcoming a welcoming policy for myself and my family right after my first child was born. And was pretty mind boggling that the United States does not have any kind of guaranteed paid family leave for its citizens. And that is completely at odds with most of the rest of the developed world. Right. We are far far behind. We’re one of a hand a very small handful of countries that does not have a paid family leave policy. That alone should set off alarm bells and I think it is in some quarters but it’s incredible that you know our country it does a lot of things really really well we do not do paid family leave well at all. And that has got to change at some point. I think it is starting to change where you know we’re starting to see states and cities take it upon themselves to provide paid leave to employees paid family leave paid sick leave. and those are great benefits that some people, some people can now access, not everybody. And that is the problem with not having a national, federal paid family leave policy, that it depends on where you live, if you’re going to be able to have access to time away from work, where you’re guaranteed to keep your job to care for yourself, your child, your loved one. And that is an economically poor decision, I think, because that doesn’t provide us with a stable of a workforce as we’d like. And it’s a bad decision for families and for their security and family should should get that time that they need to care for each other. So, you know, that has actually changed in the last I like I said, I have a double digit to have that she’s 10. So in the last decade, that has changed, and so I can count that progress. And those 10 years, at least in DC, and I think there’s a groundswell of support for paid family leave. But your access to paid leave should not depend on the zip code in which you reside, it should be right that everybody is guaranteed turn. So

Selley Looby  10:59  

what’s been your experience with paid family leave? Or the absence of it?

Trenessa Freeman  11:03  

You know, it’s been a long time since that first one. My last was the one where I felt supported. And it’s because I worked at first vote is and even though the laws didn’t say I could take more time, I worked with an organization who knew six weeks was not enough time to be with a baby. And so I also did what Averi did every bit of leave, I have I used, I used the six weeks and then you know, I worked out different hours so that I could spend more time with my baby. And from a governmental standpoint, I did not feel supported. When I had my children. It was like you’ve had that baby now get back to work. But fortunately, I had a support system in place that allowed me to do what I needed to do, whether it be go back to work, or stay home. Yeah,

Selley Looby  11:57  

I think you both hit it on the head. It’s just that feeling of feeling supported, or to not have that right and how that impacts those early days and weeks and months. When you come home with the kid whether it’s your first one or your fourth one, your kids Trenessa. I remember I applied for a job one time. And when I looked at their paid family leave, it was 40 hours of leave. And I had to read that again. Because I was like is this 40 weeks, 40 hours insulting? And I said you know what, I’m not even a mom yet. But I know this is not going to work.

Averi Pakulis  12:36  

I wonder who wrote that policy. It’s also you

Selley Looby  12:39  

know, it impacts the labor force. Coming up after the break, Trenessa Averi and I get into maternal mental health and childcare stick around.

Leila Nimatallah  12:53  

Making the world a better place for all children can seem like an impossibly huge task. Some of you may be thinking, I’m just one person, what could I possibly do to make a difference? I’m Leila Nimatallah, Vice President of advocacy and mobilization at First Focus on Children. And I’m inviting you to join us and become one of our volunteer advocates, whom we call our ambassadors for children’s ambassadors are our most active child advocates who raise critical issues with the US Congress and with the administration related to child policy and funding decisions, both for kids in the US and worldwide. But don’t take my word for it. We asked one of our ambassadors to share her experience. Hi,

Cady Landa  13:44  

I’m Cady Landa. I live in New York City. I currently work as a researcher for an institute called the Child and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. I joined the ambassador program because it’s important to me to participate in working towards public policies that support children and their families. And I would encourage you to become an ambassador if you would like to become a part of a very supportive and warm network of people that values teaching and learning and activism towards creating a more just and caring country.

Leila Nimatallah  14:34  

Thank you. So please join us won’t you? Check out campaign for backslash ambassadors, on how to become a First Focus on Children Ambassador and to link up with our fabulous community of committed child advocates.

Bruce Lesley  15:02  

First Focus on Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority and federal policy and budget decisions.

Selley Looby  15:11  

First Focus moves beyond individual issue areas to serve a more important role child advocacy. We educate lawmakers and the American public about the issues facing children.

Bruce Lesley  15:22  

To learn more about our work and ways you can become an ambassador, go to First

Selley Looby  15:27  

Coming up on the state of play. I talked to Leila Nimatallah about Congress’s response to the needs of children and mothers. We started with maternal health and reproductive rights, we kind of moved into paid family leave. And then you know, the next little bit of a cluster that I feel like we deal with as moms and families is, is childcare we did this major eye roll and side when childcare is brought up. You know, it’d be interesting to hear your perspective Trenessa Because you’re now seeing it from different sides, right? Like you experienced child care. But then I’m sure now your son who has two kids is experiencing childcare, and the set of challenges that we see today with the increase of cost access issues, quality issues. What do you both think needs to happen? What’s been your experience with child care? And again, you know, where do you see government’s role in all this? Averi, we can start with you.

Averi Pakulis  16:23  

You’re absolutely right, Selley, once you know her past pay leave time, then it is time to figure out a childcare arrangement of some sort. And for my kids, specifically, we’ve done a variety of things. I think a lot of families have, you know, whether that be a home based daycare, a nanny share a Saturday’s childcare, family friend, a neighbor care, and certainly during the COVID, 19 pandemic, you know, all of our child care plans got blown up, and we had to figure out all new arrangements. But there is an enormous role for the federal government to play in child care policy. And I think I figured this out somewhere between the birth of my two kids. And when I was touring childcare centers, we ended up in a center for my first daughter, I asked questions about the nap schedule, and the playground equipment. And, you know, lunchtime, and sort of the things that I thought were the important details that I needed to know about her day and what it would look like. And then by the time my second daughter was born, and I had a little more experience as a parent, and I had more experience in childcare policy, I asked a whole different set of questions. And those were questions like, what’s your turnover rate for your staff? What do you pay your staff? Do you give your staff paid leave? Do they have paid sick time? Do they have vacation time, because I realized that how we treat the childcare workforce is directly related to the quality of the care that our kids get. And most childcare providers are not able to answer those questions in a greater way even they would like to write, they can’t afford to pay their staff very well for this incredibly important work that they do. First of all, I also want to really highlight that, that the people we choose to leave our kids with as parents, I mean, that is the most stressful and the sort of biggest decision, one of the biggest decisions we make, and it is not taken lightly. And so to then decide, okay, I feel this place, it’s going to be safe for my child. And then for those people not to make a living wage is appalling. And then also, how do we expect them to be able to provide for their families? How do we expect them to stay at a job over the long term, and we know that stability in providers and care is positive for kids. And so I think I’ve learned a lot over the over the couple of years, as I said, between my kids, and that’s where the federal government comes into play on paid leave, right? So we already talked about paid leave for ourselves as parents, but what about paid leave for the people who are caring for our kids, and many of them are parents themselves on a living wage that is paid to caregivers, and their access to benefits is so important. And so again, that’s where the federal government needs to come in, because an individual child care provider can’t possibly afford on parent fees alone, to provide that kind of compensation and stability for their workforce. And so just like in K 12 education, where we are all guaranteed public education from from kindergarten through grade 12, I think we need to look at that same lens and look at it for the younger years as well, where right now things are expensive and accessible. And we are not providing for these childcare professionals in the way that we really need to be. So I absolutely I think there’s a huge role for the federal government to play in childcare, and to make it more accessible and affordable for families and sustainable for the workforce. Yeah,

Selley Looby  19:53  

I couldn’t agree more and Averi you and I both lived in in DC during a window where We had access to three universal pre k three and four, which is a huge cost saving. I mean, I don’t know what it is in DC. I know for me personally, it felt like it was a lot of money 1000s and 1000s of dollars, when you when you add it up, Trenessa, what’s been your experience with child care,

Trenessa Freeman  20:19  

childcare was probably my biggest hurdle with all my children. With my older children. It worked out because their grandmother was a teacher, and retired right around the time when nothing was working, or nothing was available, or I don’t remember at this was more than 30 years ago. But I do know that my mother in law was who took care of the kids, because there was no other option. That was a huge bonus for them. It was the best case scenario. And so that was wonderful, great, fast forward to my second set of children, it was really stressful having to put them in childcare, what matters to me more than anything, and I’m handing them over to you, and I don’t really know you, and I’m trusting that you will take care of my kid like I would. And I used a commercial place for a little while I didn’t care for that. My son was he wasn’t quite talking. And I needed reports I needed, I needed to know what was going on in that facility. And he wasn’t able to tell me and I just wasn’t, I didn’t feel good. And so I eventually took him out of that place and put him in a phone childcare, which was better. But that has a whole nother set of issues. And at one point I considered being a childcare provider, because then maybe I could stay home with my kids and clearly make lots of money because people were charging lots of money. But I quickly realized, as much as I love my children, I do not want to spend my whole day with other people’s kids. And that that was interesting, because I still struggle with where it was safe. They were loved. And I could afford it. But it wasn’t my first choice. I didn’t have access to my first choice for childcare. And I agree with Averi wholeheartedly, the government’s role should be the same as it is from K to 12. Let’s get zero to K, because they need support, then as well. I

Selley Looby  22:40  

could not agree more. And I just think it is a privilege to have options. I feel very fortunate and very blessed and very privileged to have had all three of my kids while working at First Focus. Because both of you know this, I also did not like where my son was going, who’s now five. And I remember walking into the daycare center. And I don’t even think they knew his name, or it was something that just made me say, You know what, this will be his last day here. And I didn’t have a plan. And so I just proceeded to get a bassinet and set it up in my office, and he became the office mascot for a long time at our office, baby, but that is not the norm. It’s not typical. But that feeling, you know, of just knowing that your child isn’t loved, regardless of how much you can pay for it or not pay for it is such a real feeling that impacts so much of your life and your mental space, which leads us to kind of our closing topic is just on mental health, not only maternal mental health, but now and I’m just starting to scratch the surface of really considering and giving a lot more thought daily to the mental health of my kids, you know, in terms of school and their access to social media. But mental health is such an interesting, important role in a motherhood journey. And also obviously in a child’s journey and how those two intersect Trenessa As someone that has kids that have you know, wide gaps and then also you have a lot almost eight year old grandson and have gone through all these different challenges, right, like how do you view mental health? How is that showing up for you throughout your motherhood journey and as it relates to your children?

Trenessa Freeman  24:31  

Ma’am, that’s a whole podcast if I answer that question, I know but I will say that at it’s loaded, right, first of all in the black community mental health for a long time was it was met with just pray it away. And when I say the black community, I mean my mother. So any mental health issues were and I don’t want to say this in a way that belittles my mother. But she came from an age where she didn’t trust doctors, and where she saw people go to doctors and come back worse. And so when we talk about mental health, it’s like, well, don’t go to the doctor. That’s what you’re not going to do. That’s number one. The only other option is to pray. While I tried it. Mom needed a little need more than that. And so fast forward today, my 17 year old is in my face every day with the shenanigans with the why is this like this? Why isn’t that like that? Why can I do this like this? She takes her mental health seriously, I take it seriously. I respect my mother’s position. I respect her experience. And I’m glad that there’s a transition happening now where me and my children that have more than just prayers available with regard to mental health. And I will say we need it. We’ve been traumatized. Like I said, that’s a whole nother episode. For me. I think that young people should have access to mental health services. I wish that didn’t carry the stigma that it does. I wish that it was more like glasses, if you can’t see clearly put on your glasses, and then wow, there’s no stigma with that. It just you can see things more clearly. That’s how I see mental health that there are tools available to help us see things more clearly. And a lot of my circle has these barriers ups to those, those tools, I hope that this transition continues and that we get to a place where we’re all healthy.

Selley Looby  26:42  

That was beautiful Trenessa. What about you, Averi, thinking about

Averi Pakulis  26:45  

mental health and all the stages in our lives at which we need to be healthy mentally and physically. And you know, first thing about maternal mental health, and knowing that a lot of the maternal mortality rates that are pretty horrifying to us happen in the postpartum period, and particular in that first year after having a child. And, again, federal policy plays a huge role here in the option to have paid leave, as we’ve discussed in every part of this conversation, being able to take that time away from work, and being with your family and caring for your new child. Also insurance coverage, whether that be private insurance or Medicaid coverage, having access to care and having insurance coverage that allows that access to be affordable, is a huge factor in our maternal mortality rates. And so that’s why, you know, we and many others advocate for things like extending postpartum Medicaid coverage for 12 months or even more after after birth, but certainly not the 60 days that are currently the minimum requirement. People think a lot now about infant and early childhood mental health, and they’re more than we ever have before. And that’s not standing in a ditch to go see a psychiatrist, that is supports provided to the caregivers in a child’s life to ensure healthy connections between the child and caregivers and making sure that the child that may have access to services that they need, and then that, you know, extends up through the younger years and listening to Trenessa talk about her daughter’s experience with mental health. And, you know, we know that youth access to mental health services is spotty and is not wholesome enough, right now, in a lot of places, kids can be on waiting lists to see, you know, mental health providers of all different kinds, all different professions. For a long time, a lot of child psychologists and psychiatrists only take private insurance or just private pay. And that is absolutely inaccessible for so many families. And so in the mental health space, we’re seeing a huge youth mental health crisis. And we’re not right now we don’t have the tools, or the access to services that families and their kids need and should absolutely have to sit just like you said, it’s just like going to the doctor, going to the dentist, why is this different? And it really shouldn’t be. And then I think some of that does have to do with stigma. I think we’re starting to make some progress there. There does seem to be a better embracing of mental health is health, just like physical health as hell. But we have a lot of progress to make. And in the meantime, kids are not being able to access the services that they need. And so we also work on a policy level to improve their access in coverage, the affordability and, and the resources that are available, their homes, their communities. So I mean, mental health just waves right through every part of our lives.

Selley Looby  29:36  

Every part. The only thing I’ll add to this is I know in my experience, no one prepares you for having a NICU baby. And for you as a mother having to leave the hospital without your baby. I can’t imagine I didn’t either. Until and it’s so funny because I just thought I’d be cool. With everything because I had, this was my second and I said, You know what, I can just ride with my brother home. And when you leave the hospital, you don’t know right how you’re gonna feel until you just get in the car and you’re like, wow, my baby is not here. It definitely takes you to a different place. And so I think the motherhood journey, and even if everything goes well, right, like your mental health and the state that you’re in postpartum in those first few weeks and months, and even years, it takes a minute. We have created life. And then, you know, going up to the Averi your point about just access to mental health and the cost, right, it’s like this is another added cost that a lot of parents have to factor in if they’re concerned about their kids mental health, especially if the obvious, or the preferred method isn’t medication, and it’s more therapy and different creative outlets that comes with a price tag. I think we’ve just highlighted how mothers they should really be every day. Really, that’s the conclusion to all of this. Averi, Trenessa thank you so much for being with us today. This was great. Thanks, Selley.

Trenessa Freeman  31:09  

Thank you for having us.

Averi Pakulis  31:11  

I love spending time with the two of you.

Selley Looby  31:17  

Welcome Leila, to State of Play.

Leila Nimatallah  31:19  

Thanks so much for having me, Messellech.

Selley Looby  31:21  

As you know, this is our special Mother’s Day episode. So we had Averi and Trenessa on earlier, which was a treat to get into all the different elements of motherhood and different pressure points and points of consideration that kids need throughout their life. You have two little ones, as you know, I have three little ones or yours aren’t so little anymore. How do you think Congress is reflective? Or how do you think Congress responds to the needs of children and mothers,

Leila Nimatallah  31:50  

I’m so glad you’re doing this episode, Messellech. It’s so important. For me motherhood was definitely a challenge. I remember, after my first was born, staying up all night, making sure that he was still breathing. Just, it was such a transformative experience in so many ways. And while I went into motherhood, you know, caring theoretically about all children, I came out of motherhood, seeing every child is most important to me. And you don’t have to be a mother or a parent to feel that way about about kids. That was just my experience. But I definitely grew as a person, thanks to my two boys who are now as you said in their early 20s. They’re no longer little ones. But they taught me so much. And unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like our US government has yet learned the lesson of the importance of investing in our kids. First Focus on Children in the campaign for children have quantified that. Unfortunately, our budget vastly under funds children’s programs, we spend less than 10% of our budget on children domestically, despite the fact that they make up 22% of our population. And it gets even worse, when you talk about our foreign aid funding. That budget is 9% of that going to children and children make up 30 to 50% of the population globally. So we’re just way out of whack, especially when you take into account the fact that children have particular needs and the return on investment when you invest in children is far greater than when you invest later on in a human beings life. So I am in the exact right place in terms of working at this fantastic organization.

Selley Looby  33:43  

What always blows my mind about motherhood, and I’ve seen it in myself to a degree and with family and friends is because of your shift in perspective, it inspires you to create, you know, and to really think of problems and solutions in a different way. You know, as you know, we’ve had Dr. Mona, who is now you know, has launched her RX program, which is providing direct supports to pregnant mothers in Flint. And we’ve also had, you know, Dr. St. Andrews, who was launched a pack to get out exactly, you know, some of the points that you just speak of is the lack of investment in kids and the need to prioritize them. We also had the executive director of Moms Rising on, Kristin Rowe, Finkbeiner. And for me, motherhood really was the catalyst to all of them thinking about their work and the way that they had looked at the world and the way motherhood had, you know, really opened their eyes to different points and need for improvement in society and in policy. You know, for mothers across the country and really across the world for our listeners. What are ways that mothers can get engaged and have their voices be heard not only for the the health of their children, but also for their health as it relates to maternal health, reproductive rights, what are some things that they can do? Ah,

Leila Nimatallah  35:08  

love that question myself. Thank you. Well, first of all, thank you for hiring me for this job because I get to be the Vice President for Advocacy and mobilization, at First Focus on Children in the campaign for children, meaning that I get to work with everyday folks around the country, to inspire them and support them to meet with and communicate with their elected officials, their two senators and their one representative in Congress to raise awareness about the importance of investing in programs that support children and their families to ensure that kids get to go to school, good school to ensure that kids get to have proper nutrition to ensure that kids receive mental health and other health care that they need, and globally to address conflict and humanitarian disasters. So all of that is critically important. And as you said, mom’s off often times, the experience of having a child just really catalyzes that focus on what is important to the development and growth of their little ones. And we have had fantastic speakers on this podcast. I’m just so inspired by them. And we’ve had fantastic mothers in the US Congress as well who are trying to do their best there. But we need more, we need your support. So I’m putting on my Vice President for Advocacy hat now. I’m asking folks who are listening to this podcast to please join us. We’re trying to create groups of volunteer advocates in all districts, all Fortune 35 districts around the US, because the truth is that we don’t know who is going to be our president next year. But we do know that our elected officials are our rep and our two senators, care about what we feel and what is important to us locally. So we’re asking you to join us. And it’s really easy, I promise you, it won’t take much time, maybe maybe less than an hour a month to do things like write to your member of Congress or tweet at them or accept them. I don’t know what you call it these days. But it’s really easy. I promise, I’ll show you the way you’ll get to work with other fantastic individuals who are also giving of their time. Oh, and I found out recently that when you volunteer, it’s also really good for your health. I just have a couple of statistics if I could share them with you salvage. According to recent studies, volunteers are tend to be five years younger in age than non volunteers, meaning the way their body ages if you’re just starting out in your career, and you have volunteering on your resume that offers higher employment opportunities, it improves your mood, it reduces stress, it cuts depression, all those things. And just in honor of Mother’s Day, I want to thank our current ambassadors for what you do we so appreciate you. We couldn’t do it without you. And I asked others to join us. And if you can’t join us in volunteering, please consider donating because that also helps us advocate for children on your behalf,

Selley Looby  38:37  

Leila, I love that you outlined a time commitment. I think for me with my kids, whenever there’s an opportunity to volunteer, especially if it’s school related or PTA related. I have the privilege to be able to do that. But my number one question is, well, what is the time commitment? Are we talking about 20 minutes one time? Is it reoccurring? And so, you know, I think that’s so important that you laid that out. And this is a different way to advocate right or a different way to support your child and your community and and also your country, you know, to think of it from a policy standpoint and a federal policy standpoint, I think oftentimes, parents and mothers tend to think about you know, their school or their local drive or selling girl scout cookies or volunteering with the PTA but this is another aspect to consider that could still make you feel good with What did you say an hour a month? Less than an hour? Yeah, less than an hour a month.

Leila Nimatallah  39:32  

It could make you feel good. It could it could boost your health. And I liked what you said Sally, sometimes it’s difficult to kind of quantify what impact advocacy will have in the real world. But I’m telling you I’ve done this kind of work for oh my gosh, way too long. Oh over 20 years, and it is catalytic. Let me tell you one story. That is an amazing story. I hope I didn’t mention this before but in a past job up. One advocate that I was working with wrote to his representative in Alaska, and I know Alaska has has just a few number of people. So maybe maybe this is particularly impactful in Alaska. But this can happen anywhere. So anyway, this person wrote to their representative Alaska, and this person wrote an op ed in their local paper. And by having the paper and the letter to their representative, and Alaska has one representative. By doing that, that representative for many, many, many years to come, always advocated on behalf of International children’s programs, because of that. One volunteer who did those two things that don’t didn’t take that much time, but it had a catalytic effect that Representative advocated within Congress, and he was a Republican. So it wasn’t like a normal thing for him to do necessarily, for a good decade after

Averi Pakulis  40:58  

that, wow.

Selley Looby  41:00  

That’s a great example. And I think it just goes to there’s a kit angle and everything, right, our comms lead, Michelle kale is great at pushing that out week over week. And I think oftentimes, through this program, through the Ambassadors program, I think the one cool thing that moms will learn is how everything is interconnected. And so the more that you learn, and the more that you understand, okay, wow, this is the way the child tax credit would impact me directly, or they could see it at the federal level. And now they’ve seen it go away, you know, and the impact that it had on their family a few years ago, it will also open their eyes to the areas within education or nutrition standards, or all these things that definitely impact again, their children directly their community, and by default, the future of the country. Yeah, I mean, that that’s a really great example of how a little bit of time and a little strategy which and as it relates to the Ambassadors program, you have already curated the strategy for them. All.

Leila Nimatallah  41:59  

Yes, it’s all set. You don’t have to do too much. It really, it’s easy. It’s actually fun, too. I promise. It’ll be fun. And when you see the impact when you say say your representative, whatever co sponsor a bill that your ask her to, it’s really fun, or when you go meet with them. That’s a really fun thing to when you see, advocates faces after their first meeting when they’re nervous to go in and they come out and then they’re excited. That’s fun. Everybody’s

Selley Looby  42:24  

just regular, right? Regular person who just regular So, Leila, thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you. So hello. I just had a good Mother’s Day.

Leila Nimatallah  42:34  

You too. Messellech. Happy Mother’s Day.

Selley Looby  42:36  

Thank you.

Bruce Lesley  42:43  

This is Speaking of Kids. Thanks for listening. I’m Bruce Lesley.

Selley Looby  42:46  

And I’m Messellech Looby. Special thanks to our guests Trenessa Freeman, Averi Pakulis, and Leila Nimatallah.

Bruce Lesley  42:53  

Speaking of Kids this podcast by First Focus on Children.

Selley Looby  42:56  

Elizabeth Windom is the supervising producer and Julia Windom is the Associate Producer.

Bruce Lesley  43:02  

Leila Nimatallah is the advocacy and mobilizing producer in the senior producers Jay Woodward.

Selley Looby  43:07  

Our theme music is don’t look twice by Sam barsh. For more information

Bruce Lesley  43:10  

about this week’s episode go to First You can find all our links in our show notes.

Selley Looby  43:17  

If you have any thoughts, questions or interest in becoming a First Focus on Children ambassador, email us at Speaking of Kids at First and

Bruce Lesley  43:27  

please follow rate and review on Apple podcast Spotify or YouTube.

Selley Looby  43:32  

Speaking of Kids is produced by when Haven productions and blue J Atlantic