2015 Leadership Luncheon: CEO Sam Whiting’s Speech

Today, Thrive held its annual Leadership Luncheon to celebrate our state’s progress in early learning and the work we do with many partners statewide. Below is Thrive President & CEO Sam Whiting’s speech to nearly 500 attendees at The Westin Seattle.


Thanks for coming today, everybody.

And special thanks to Megan and Bentley for sharing your story and for being with us today. And thanks to our grantee partner, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, for introducing us to Megan and for your amazing home visiting work.

Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers and home visiting is proven to be one of the best investments we can make in individual children AND entire families.

Yet right now, only about a quarter of our state’s low-income families who qualify receive high-quality, long-term home visiting.

I don’t know about you, but that triggers a sense of urgency in me to do even more than we already are – as an organization and as a state.

And it will take all of us. It will take all of us.

Last year, I stood here just a few months into leading a newly merged organization. It was a time filled with anticipation and quite a few unknowns. We needed to rebrand ourselves, refresh our strategic planning and reimagine how we measure our progress.

As part of all that serious work over the past year, I met A LOT of people in our state and elsewhere. I heard repeatedly how Washington is such an early learning leader.

We are out front in so many ways: in how we think, work together and invest.

I really started to understand WHY our state needs Thrive. Yes, we’ve made great progress as a state, but we still have a lot of work to do.

When our kids were little and they started to get tired or lose hope on a walk or errands, usually when realizing how far we still had to go, we would ask: “Who’s got their fortitude in their pocket?”

Still a family joke, it was a light-hearted and encouraging way to remind them that they had what it took to keep going.

For as much progress as the state has made in early learning, we still have far to go.

We can’t sit down yet. And no, nobody in this room is getting a piggyback ride to the finish.

Let’s save our collective piggyback strength for the families who could benefit from home visiting services but aren’t receiving them.

Or about half of next year’s new kindergartners who need to be better prepared in math. Or all of the families who need access to affordable, high-quality child care. Or communities statewide working so hard together to close the Opportunity Gap for young children of color.

As we all keep working together to make sure every child gets a great start, think of Thrive as the fortitude in Washington’s pocket.

For example:

  • We are a leader and partner in unifying and strengthening the state’s early learning system, so that ALL children are ready. We do this by rallying providers, funders and communities to come together to talk, think and act in ways we haven’t before.
  • Because of Thrive, more public AND private money goes to those innovative early learning programs and experiences proven to make the biggest difference.
  • Because of Thrive, the early learning conversation has changed. We amplify community voice. We push for racial equity to be a driver in program, practice and policy development. And we’re not afraid to tackle the hard issues many families face.

Later in today’s program, our luncheon co-chair, Dan Kranzler, will ask you to take something OUT of your pocket, if you know what I mean.

But right now, at each place setting, you will find a little Thrive chamois in a pouch. It’s for you to put IN your pocket to remind you that sometimes it only takes a little fortitude to keep going in this important work we’re doing together.

While you’re stashing your chamois, I want to return to one of those hard issues for many families. One we’re talking about a lot lately.

Adverse Childhood Experiences – or ACEs – is a topic that’s gaining attention nationally and in our state. ACES are traumatic experiences that too often lead to a lifetime of health and mental health problems.

We know from ACEs research that children growing up today have experienced more adversity than the generation before. Today’s generation will have to work harder to get through life – and may inadvertently repeat the cycle of trauma when they are parents.

Understanding ACEs is powerful – potentially a game-changer for early learning – and should increase our collective sense of urgency to support families as early as possible.

Thrive is raising awareness in the early learning field about ACEs and helping to build tools that will transform our approach to home visiting, which is one of the best ways to address ACEs.

In about 15 minutes, our panel will discuss how ACEs research is being integrated into communities and programs statewide. I’m excited to share that conversation with you.

We’ll also hear how one mom’s awareness of ACEs finally helped her understand her own experiences, ultimately changing the future for herself, her children and her grandchildren.

But first, I want to introduce Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco.

Known nationally – and well beyond pediatric medicine – she is altering the way society responds to kids exposed to significant trauma and toxic stress. And we are fortunate to have her here to talk about her experiences.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Nadine Burke Harris.