Before the country was well versed in masks, social distancing, and “unprecedented times,”
March 2020 looked promising – especially so for Liz Murphy, the new CEO of Early Learning
Coalition of the Big Bend. After fourteen years with the Coalition – a career that began at the front desk and only trajected upward – Murphy was ready to take the helm of an organization she loved and knew well. What she did not anticipate, however, was a pandemic that would define her first year in the position.
“The biggest challenge we have faced has been maintaining the level of customer service that our families and providers have come to expect from us,” explains Murphy. “Our customers’ needs are even greater during this time, and it’s important we are able to meet them.”
The Early Learning Coalition is a private nonprofit organization that provides services to families, children, and child care providers in the seven counties that comprise northern Florida’s Big Bend region:
Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, and Wakulla. Offices regularly met with local families to discuss child care assistance, developmental screening, and provided free children’s books through their Word Garden libraries.
By March, Murphy made the difficult decision to temporarily close all offices from the public and have staff work remotely. However, child care centers – a large base of Early Learning Coalition’s clients – continued to remain open and families continued to need child care services. It was imperative to Murphy that the organization remained accessible and attentive.
Customers are still able to access services virtually – via phone, video conferencing, email, or the family and provider portals hosted on their website. Internally, communications ramped up to ensure clarity and cohesiveness. “Digital platforms became a necessity for our internal communications – daily teleconference meetings are prioritized based on the organization needs,” says Murphy. “We are still able to recognize our staff and celebrate milestones, albeit from our homes.”
Despite the challenges, the Coalition certainly has had a lot to celebrate. Wakulla’s Chamber of Commerce selected the Early Learning Coalition as the 2020 Non-Profit of the Year for their Business Excellence Award based on its impact in the community. Annual events like the Run ELC 5k went virtual and still saw a lot of success. Most importantly, the organization is entering its 20th year in service – and nothing is going to hold Murphy and her staff back from recognizing this milestone.
“Many of our staff members and supporters have been with the ELC since the beginning,” explains Murphy. “We have had the opportunity to touch so many lives in the Big Bend region and we don’t take that lightly.
This year is about celebrating who and what makes this organization an integral part of our communities.”
As she simultaneously celebrates her first year as CEO and a year of navigating the pandemic, Murphy is confident about the year ahead, no matter what it may look like. “Failure is not an option,” she confirms, “and challenges are welcomed.”
The Early Coalition of the Big Bend Region works collaboratively with families, their children, and local child care providers to help prepare children for success in school and support families’ ability to work. Family support services include tuition assistance programs, child care information services, and community referrals that support each families’ individual success. Child care providers are able to receive training and assessments through the Coalition, ensuring compliance for quality care and support within their communities. For more information, visit www.elcbigbend.org.
By Megan Glasgow