A good friend and former colleague of mine, Elizabeth Link, passed away from cancer. Visiting with her family and fellow educators I was reminded of our past experiences in working together, and I heard new stories of the work that she did on behalf of pregnant teenagers and teen parents.
Her “girls” were always at the forefront of Liz’s mind, and she was relentless in her work to see that the young women in Project Opportunities finished high school and went on to college or career training and that they acquired the skills they needed to be good parents.
The educational establishment and society in general have not always been kind or supportive to teenage girls who get pregnant, but Liz could see the value in each of these young women and their babies. She went to bat for them in a program whose continued funding was always tenuous. There are hundreds of young women who have a better life because of her intervention.
The comments recorded in the friend registry at her memorial service were among the warmest I have ever read as testimony to the many ways Liz supported them and influenced their lives.
Last week, I also attended a workshop sponsored by Voices for Virginia’s Children. A panel of preschool directors and others involved in early intervention and social services for children reminded me of how fortunate we are in this region to have programs that serve our youngest citizens.
Although the evidence is overwhelming as to the value of such programs in making a positive difference in the lives of children and their futures, such programs continue to struggle with limited funding. The range of needs among children is broad. Well-trained and caring teachers are needed to provide a quality program, but the pay scale remains at the level of service employees. It is dedication that keeps the staff of these programs going with the success they see in the faces of their young charges and in the stories they hear about the successes their students of the past are having as they grow older.
Early intervention with children with special needs saves society millions of dollars in reducing the need for programs and services in the future. We need to continue to work to increase the investment to ensure that the needs of many more children are met.
Our teachers come the closest anyone can hope for to immortality. The Liz Links and the early childhood educators of the world will be remembered, and the models they leave will influence others long after they’ve left us. Everyone remembers and thinks about his or her best teacher. The world can see the legacy of their investment in young lives.
Ken Plum (D) represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. His views do not necessarily represent those of Reston Now.