Eamonn Fitzgerald -
Today we are sitting down with Eamonn Fitzgerald to learn more about him and his role with First 5 Lex.
Can you tell us about your role with First 5 Lex and what a typical day may look like for you?
For First 5 Lex, I serve in the role of the manager through Fayette County Public Schools. I coordinate the huge, collaborative effort that everyone else does. I take care of the paperwork, grant writing and connecting everyone through the group.
I don’t know if I have a typical day. Some days will be spent managing grants and contacting families or partners while others will be spent delivering 3,200 books to 9 different medical sites here in town. Some days I will be at family engagement events doing activities for kids. Every day is a little different, which is nice. It gives me a chance to engage in the community.
Can you tell us about First 5 Lex’s community outreach? What role do you play in the community?
The goal of First 5 Lex is to support children and their families from birth to 5 years old. We’ve been consistent with our Read to Me Libraries program around town. We offer books at sites where families may wait such as the WIC office. We have also been consistent with our partnership with Reach Out and Read Kentucky to give families the book Read to Me Sunshine at their newborn’s two-week-old appointment. The pediatrician gives them the book and goes through the book with them. It’s a storybook, but on the side of the book, there are tips for new families on how to engage their child and their brain development. Our goal is to reach families very early on with the idea of read, talk and play.
Why does First 5 Lex place such a strong emphasis on early childhood education?
We believe early childhood education is the foundation of everything that happens. There is research that shows that 90% of a child’s brain is developed by the time they turn 5. We also know that you can follow math scores until the 3rd grade to help determine graduation rates. Families and children need the strongest beginning and root system possible. We put a lot of effort into meeting families in the early stage of their family life. Even prenatal, which is why we have partners like UK Pediatrics and Bluegrass Health First. Early childhood sets the stage for lifelong learning and everything a child and their family will go through.
Why was First 5 Lex created?
First 5 Lex came from a charge from the Governor's Office of Early Childhood to address school readiness. Fayette County Public Schools, along with the Fayette County Community Action Agency, Fayette County Community Early Childhood Council and United Way of the Bluegrass decided it was something everyone had a vested interest in. We wanted to create a community collaboration. Everyone was already doing similar work, just not together. The agencies had the idea to bring in people that were already interested in the work they were doing and combine efforts. This allowed us to blanket the entire county instead of individual agencies targeting certain spots around town. If we can all collaborate and combine efforts, we can reach many more families.
Can you talk about First 5 Lex’s growth since its inception?
Since it started, we now have a name. We didn’t have a name for a long time. We were just a group that was meeting with the hope of making ripples of change throughout Fayette County.
First 5 Lex has grown to the point where other folks and families are reaching out to us. We have people that will see a billboard or a book with our sticker on it and will then contact us or send us a Facebook message. Social media has helped out quite a bit with reaching families. Especially during the pandemic. The growth has been good and has happened quickly. Our goal is to reach families and I think families are starting to catch on and refer others to First 5 Lex. It has been a nice growth to see.
Why do you think the First 5 message - to read, talk and play with little ones each day - is so important?
The message is simple and effective. Having kids myself, I know sometimes things can get overwhelming with everything that you have to do. The simple message of read, talk and play is free. For the little effort you put in, it has very large gains that come from just having a conversation with your child. There are statistics out there that state that if you read a book to your child every day from the day they are born until the day they turn 5, you’ve read 1,825 books to your child. Of course, that might be the same book, or you could be repeating books, but you’ve sat down 1,825 times to engage with your child. This is big. I think a lot of times we don’t focus on the time reading with a child sitting next to you or on your lap and the connections that are built there.
In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?
It has been able to highlight a lot of great work that is already being done by our partners. It helps to streamline some of the funding and activities. As a community collaboration, we are happy to share and promote each other's work. The behind the scenes kind of work that folks don’t see is that we’re building a stronger community from the inside out to benefit families directly. We might not always be on the front lines, but we are always behind the scenes packing books or developing activities that will directly affect families in some capacity.
How does First 5 Lex hope to continue to partner with the community in the future?
The goal is to create a collaborative community and continue to support children and their families. We want to keep the partnerships we have going and also find new partnerships.
A good example is a partnership we have with the local barbershop. They were a group of young boys that were already collecting school supplies to hand out in the neighborhood to give back. We were able to partner with them to give them books to give out to children and families. It’s just another way to help strengthen the work others are already doing.
However we need to connect with families, we will always try our best to do that.
Just For Fun:
What is your favorite children’s book to READ?
My favorite children’s book is probably Charlie Parker Played Be Bop written by Chris Raschka. It isn’t one that was around when I was a kid, but I fell in love with it when I was teaching preschool. The kids loved it. I’m a huge fan of Charlie Parker and his music. He’s a genius in terms of music.
If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?
I like to spend a lot of time outside and I like gardening. I would like to play outside, walking around barefoot.
If you could TALK with one person from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I like history. It would be nice to talk to family members who have since passed, but I think even my father wouldn’t want me to pass up the chance to talk to Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela would be the person I would want to talk to for several reasons. The historical reference of course, but growing up we followed his journey. There’s a lot of backstories there that we don’t have to share today. We celebrate Nelson Mandela Day, which is July 18th, where we try to do something special in the community.
Thank you so much, Eamonn, for all you do for our community through First 5 Lex!
“It’s an exciting time for First 5 Lex. Continuing the work we do and continuing to reach families is the goal.” ~Eamonn Fitzgerald