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New early childhood nonprofit First 8 Memphis hires first director

September 14, 2019

From the Daily Memphian article, September 6, 2019

A new Memphis nonprofit dedicated to investing in early childhood programs throughout Shelby County recently appointed its first executive director.

First 8 Memphis was formed this year with the intention of financially supporting and advocating for early childhood programs for children from birth to age 8.

Regina Walker was named First 8 Memphis interim executive director in August, but whether she will eventually serve permanently long-term or solely on an interim basis has not been determined.

Walker had previously been with the United Way of Mid-South for 29 years in various roles, including as senior vice president of community engagement and alignment.

After retiring from United Way in 2014, she founded R. D. Walker & Associates LLC, a consulting agency focused on helping revitalize communities.

Walker said the idea of helping implement First 8 Memphis’ plan intrigued her, despite not having an education background.

“What they asked me to do is really one of my passions,” Walker said. “How do we engage multiple populations in this work? … It’s really about our citizens here. While we’re providing the foundation for this work, we look forward to parents saying, ‘This is what we should be doing,’ that they be the voice, so we pull back and do what we do.”

First 8 Memphis was established earlier this year as the proposed fiscal agent for more than $16 million that Shelby County government and the city of Memphis will appropriate the next several years for 1,000 pre-kindergarten classrooms countywide.

The idea for First 8 Memphis came from another Memphis nonprofit, Seeding Success, which focuses on early childhood development to careers. Seeding Success officials spent the past four years developing an early childhood program, and 2019 was the right time to create First 8 Memphis.

“By being First 8 Memphis, it really starts to help us all create that visibility around the importance of those first eight years of life,” said Kathy Buckman Gibson, who serves on the Seeding Success board of directors. “And really helping creating that awareness throughout our community.”

First 8 Memphis plans to invest in early childhood programs through a model that begins with supporting quality home visitation programs and building a pipeline that leads to child care, pre-K and eventually K-3 with services supported by the nonprofit.

“We have got so many partners at the table,” Gibson said. “It’s not us, it’s this framework that we’re helping create oversee support. It’s all the other partners that are doing this work.”

The nonprofit hopes the partnerships it builds with the city, county, school districts and early childhood programs will lead to long-term success in Shelby County. First 8 Memphis’ long-term goals mirror Shelby County Schools’ goals of 90% of children to be kindergarten-ready and 90% of third-graders reading on grade level by 2025.

According to Seeding Success data, 52% percent of Shelby County children are kindergarten ready and 24% of third-graders are reading on grade level as of 2019.

“It is rigorous work, you must be committed to it,” Walker said.

The nonprofit plans to release more metrics in the future to measure its progress between now and 2025. Community meetings are also in the pipeline for First 8 Memphis, though no dates have been set.