Lameakia Collier believes quality, affordable and accessible childcare operates as the great equalizer in life, the secret to closing gaps in poverty and education. “Without childcare, we don’t function as a society, it is critical to the success of any community.”
So, since early March, she joins a small but mighty staff of passionate advocates focused on ensuring access to quality early childhood care and education in Lincoln – in her role as the new Wellness Workforce Navigator for Lincoln Littles.
Collier is confident she is perfect for this job, backed with a resume that reads like a patchwork quilt of career choices – from the state of Nebraska to Lincoln Public Schools – her education and work history making her uniquely connected and aligned for this task.
She cites a recent experience as proof positive this is her calling – a time when she was working with a frazzled mother who had been a victim of domestic abuse. Struggling for a better future, the woman had finally secured a solid job offering in Omaha – but was frantic because she had no childcare. Collier connected her with Lincoln Littles, and by week’s end they had jumped in and found funding and childcare, meeting the mother’s needs. She started work the following Monday.
“Watching all that unfold, seeing how the bridge of Lincoln Littles connected everything together in a circle, I could see how I would easily move into my new role. I could see how I would be effective in this job. I love working with children and families, helping people realize their best potential – and that is why I’m coming to Lincoln Littles.”
Most recently, Collier has worked at LPS in a variety of roles, but something sparked inside of her – the moment she read about the job opening at Lincoln Littles: “I was happy at LPS and didn’t really need another job, and I knew it would be a big jump for me. But the mission at Lincoln Littles, their focus, all their work aligned with my own personal mission.”
Then she had a conversation with Anne Brandt, executive director of Lincoln Littles, and Suzanne Schneider, associate director, and was thrilled about the direction they were going and growing. “They are passionate about what they do, and I feel passionate about how I could partner with them, how I could add value to what they are doing. I was drawn to the way they explained their working relationship, their culture and climate.”
The new Lincoln Littles job position focuses on the early childcare workforce, and facing up to the many current challenges in the industry. “We have high turnover, burnout in jobs,” Collier explains. “I need to look at what barriers staff are facing and help brainstorm how we might work directly with our community to provide better structure and support.”
She is already discovering this career move is a perfect blend of her employment history, looking back on her wide breadth of job experiences.
Collier began her professional career path working in Human Resources for the state of Nebraska, becoming versed in recruiting and screening of applicants, new hires and worker orientation.
Then she took some time to be a stay-at-home mom, but during those years served as director of youth programs for her church, and eventually supervised childcare staff at yet another church – working with everything from the federal food program to comprehensive work training.
She returned to the professional work force when she came to Lincoln Public Schools and worked in accounting at Lincoln High School, then transferred to LPS District Office to work in the multicultural office as well as deal with policy and legislative issues.
And, some time in all those years, she managed to take night classes and inch her way through college – eventually earning her bachelor’s degree from Doane College with a double major in Business (with an emphasis in human resources), and Human Relations (with an emphasis in children and adolescent behavior).
After earning her degree, she switched departments at LPS and went to work as a services coordinator for Early Childhood, then as services coordinator supervisor, where she learned more about professional learning, appraisal and comprehensive training for new staff members.
“Gradually I started noticing that everything I truly loved in my personal and professional life – helping with the future teacher workshop, volunteering as a TeamMate, working with children in my church – were all related to direct contact with students and families. And I decided I needed to find a way to make that a big part of every day, not just pieces of the year.”
Now she believes she can take all her skills and experience – use her prior partnerships and connections – and bring them into her new job as Wellness Workforce Navigator.
Collier notes that during her final days at LPS she received multiple cards of thanks, and many carried a similar theme: “Thank you for helping me realize my potential.” “Thanks for believing in me.” “Thanks for building my confidence.”
This spring she hit the ground running and started doing her homework about how to bring those same strengths to her new job in early childcare. “I’ve been getting to know the people in the childcare industry in Lincoln. Going to community job fairs. Researching what other cities are doing and looking into how we can bring back the best concepts to Lincoln.”
Collier says the time is right to build confidence and capacity into the community’s early childcare workforce. “We must identify ways we can make impact and support them. We must examine how to change the culture of childcare workers, how we can shift things, not necessarily increasing budget – but somehow successfully recruiting and retaining employees.”
One major push, she says, will be looking to the immigrant and refugee population of Lincoln as a potential untapped workforce. “At the same time, we’ll need to make sure we create inclusive work environments.”
Bottom line, Collier says, “I believe this job is about supporting equitable access to childcare for all children, and inviting our community to come along for the journey.”