Vanessa Benes has worked as an early childcare educator for less than a year, and is still fairly new to her job with Kids First Childcare, Inc.

But she has found understanding, moral support and friendship – along with solid strategies and advice – at the Connection Cadre, a monthly professional learning and coaching opportunity initiated by Lincoln Littles.

“Everyone is so kind at the Cadre, very open, accommodating and encouraging,” Benes says.  “They can give you support and sympathy when you’ve had a hard day, while also understanding that you really love your job.”

And she does love her job.  “I get all those hugs and snuggles from the cutest toddlers, 15 to 24 months old. I love little kids.”

The Connection Cadre launched several months ago with invitations to the 30 graduates who had taken the Childcare Teacher Foundations Classes – training hosted by Lincoln Littles and focused on those interested in working in the early childcare field.

“We wanted to provide a safe space for our graduates of the classes to stay connected, process barriers and celebrate successes in their work, and exchange strategies,” according to Lameakia Collier, Workforce Development Program Administrator for Lincoln Littles who facilitates the Foundations classes and organizes the Cadre in collaboration with Jaci Foged from the Nebraska Extension.  “We wanted to start the Cadre with a well-being focus to build community and connection in the early childhood workforce.”

Aaliyah Solorio, who works at Trinity Lutheran Childcare, is drawn to the learning and bonding at the Cadre.

“You get new and different perspectives from all the guest speakers about things you might not even think about, like applying diversity training in our classrooms,” Solorio says. “Or getting help when you don’t know what to do in a specific situation.”

But Solorio says perhaps the best part of the Cadre is getting to know and connecting with other early childcare educators.  “We have breakthrough moments.  We talk about the love of our job. Younger kids are such a breath of fresh air. They have such innocence and happiness. It’s rewarding, helping them learn.”

Elaine Simpson, recently hired as director of the new early childcare program at Catholic Social Services, has respect for the training class as well as the Cadre – both facilitated by Lincoln Littles.   “The connections we make with other people in childcare are invaluable. We learn from one another.”

Simpson says it’s been an interesting experience switching away from a career with school-age children to a career with younger children with support from Lincoln Littles.  “This has been a great opportunity to get the necessary training, talk about diverse strategies, appreciate working with young children. I love watching these little kids grow, giving them the confidence to take risks and learn new things.”

The new Cadre fosters a community of learning and problem-solving, not only supporting individual teachers but also contributing to a culture of continuous improvement within the early childhood community.

The Cadre reinforces the importance of professional development programs that provide a platform for teachers to share their experiences, seek advice and collectively work towards solutions. Educators expand their knowledge and deepen their connections.

Benes explains that she is new to early childcare – and new to working at Kids First Childcare, Inc. – after she was challenged with finding a solid job while searching for childcare for her own two children. “The situation ultimately led me to working in early childcare, and it has been a perfect solution.”

The training and Cadre experience have offered Benes help in a new career by providing everything from CPR certification to handling difficult work situations to celebrating career successes.

“The training and Cadre are really great things for Lincoln,” she says. “I hope they can offer more classes. This kind of training helps to ensure we provide high-quality childcare in our community. Parents need to be able to trust that their children are well taken care of.”

Solorio agrees. “Everyone in the Cadre is connected. We support one another. We set and share our intentions of how we want to get better.”

She says, thanks to the training and Cadre, she had a breakthrough moment when she affirmed a future in education that will go beyond early childcare.  Today she attends Teacher’s College at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

She says the Lincoln Littles programs have changed her life. “I have learned so much about myself.”

Meanwhile, Simpson specifically praises Lincoln Littles for facilitating programs that help early childcare educators.

“They helped me work through the details, licensing and the process of opening a new childcare center,” she explains, referring to the new Catholic Social Services center. “Their connections are priceless.”

Simpson is grateful for the opportunities: “I’m so grateful for the prospect of getting immersed in the culture of early childcare, for the ongoing support, for the chance to continue to grow and learn, for connecting with people who are doing what you’re doing. People who understand.”

** Fiscally sponsored by Lincoln Community Foundation, Lincoln Littles is an organization of passionate advocates focused on ensuring access to quality early childhood care and education in Lincoln.**