The Early Childhood Policy & Advocacy Lab


An initiative of The Education Trust–New York and Raising New York

About the Lab

Research shows that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life — the period of time from birth to age three — is when 85% of brain development happens. Therefore, we must support families with very young children to advocate for programs and policies that support their young New Yorker’s development.

The Early Childhood Policy & Advocacy Lab aims to equip a diverse group of parents and caregivers from across New York State with the tools necessary to inform policymakers and advocate for systemic changes that will further support families and their young children. We support the parent cohort by helping them develop skills in policy writing, power mapping, and advocacy strategies to advance equity in their respective communities. 

The Early Childhood & Policy and Advocacy Lab is an initiative of The Education Trust–New York and Raising New York. 

Meet the Lab Participants

The Parent Leaders span across New York State, with a strong focus on New York City. Our parent and caregiver participantseach with at least one child under age five have experienced a diverse set of challenges in accessing high-quality, affordable child care, Early Intervention services, and health and development services. Each parent and caregiver’s story is different and equally important but they thread together a common theme that highlights how New York State needs to do more to support families with infants and toddlers.  

<b>Julissy Acosta</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Brooklyn, New York City</em></small>
Julissy is passionate about early childhood education, especially in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the neighborhood where she grew up. Her interest in early childhood education grew from observing that children who enter school before kindergarten can be severely delayed in development because they are not receiving the services they need. 

As a parent leader, Julissy empowers others to advocate for their families by working alongside families to help stimulate their children in preparation for kindergarten. Moreover, she engages in family strength assessments to identify needs and strengths and establish goals with families — from enrolling in English as a Second Language classes to putting food on the table. Julissy has also been a member of the family advisory board for the Robin Hood Foundation and Brooklyn Children’s Museum Council. 

Seeing families overcome challenges and thrive motivates her to continue to work in the early childhood education field. Julissy aspires to spread awareness about the importance of parents and caregivers being the first and most important teachers to and advocates for their children.

<b>DaShaun Baldwin</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Buffalo, New York</em></small>

DaShaun is a dedicated Program Director at the Community Action Organization of Western New York, where she passionately advocates for individuals and families. 

DaShaun’s commitment to education led her to write and secure a micro-grant aimed at empowering parents and students through education. Her ability to forge and maintain partnerships has brought valuable opportunities to the Western New York community, fostering growth and development. She represents families at short-term and long-term suspension trainings, advocating for fair and just treatment in the education system. She is also at the forefront of community engagement, hosting and co-hosting events that benefit the local community and conducting outreach to address its needs.

DaShaun’s career journey reflects her unwavering commitment to community empowerment, data accuracy, advocacy, and effective leadership. Her dedication to making a positive impact on the Western New York community continues to inspire and uplift those she serves.

<b>Shimul Das</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">New York City</em></small>

Shimul is a new dad of a 15-week-old son. Outside his role as a dad, he is a public health researcher and an academically trained biologist. As a first-time dad, he is passionate about early childhood development and ensuring his son has access to high-quality programs.

Through the Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy Lab, he hopes to connect with other parents and find ways to influence early childhood policy and advocacy.

<b>Dejonea Benjamin</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Brooklyn, New York City</em></small>

As a first-time mother, Dejonea understands how a child’s early years can have lifelong impacts and exposure to new things can help brain development. She is an active participant in baby groups throughout Brooklyn, including the Brownsville Baby Café, which provides spaces for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to meet other parents and learn from lactation consultants.

Dejonea has a daughter who was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of three. Her daughter is now in child care and receiving Early Intervention services. Through the Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy Lab, Dejonea hopes to advocate for other children in her community, while continuing to advocate for her daughter’s early childhood education. 

<b>Amy Lee Funes</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Queens, New York City</em></small>

Amy has a background in social work and case management for underserved communities in New York City, and with her combined professional and personal background, she strives to be an advocate for equity in services and programs for children and families. A single mother to a four-year-old, Amy had to make the hard decision to leave the workforce permanently due to the lack of affordable child care in her Queens community. Moreover, during the pandemic, her son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She faced many challenges receiving Early Intervention services as programs were impacted by shutdowns and had to move online. Since then, she has connected with many parent organizations and agencies, such as Parent2Parent and Parents Together, to fight for change for her son and other children. She looks forward to continuing her advocacy with the Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy Lab. 

<b>Ashley Ibrahim</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Syracuse, New York</em></small>

Ashley, a mom to a two-year-old daughter and four-year-old son, has always prioritized her education and learning, as she does for her children. Her son was diagnosed with autism in November 2022 and Ashley has since had to navigate the complexity of accessing Early Intervention services, governmental agencies and programs, insurance, and resources available in her community. She is a proud advocate for her son, as he was initially denied intake testing for Early Intervention because he is verbal. Moreover, Ashley had to navigate cultural differences she encountered regarding her son’s development and whether he needed services. She hopes to continue to hone her advocacy skills through the Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy Lab, considering her son is gifted with numbers and reading and she foresees a future where she will need to ensure he is in the best educational setting for him to thrive.

Ashley holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Le Moyne College where she developed an interest in child psychology and the psychology of learning. As a student, she worked as a departmental honors research student and presented her findings at the Association for Psychological Science Conference in NYC. 

Her work and volunteer experience has always been centered around helping children, as she has volunteered with learning centers and afterschool programs, and served as an early childhood lead teacher at Rothschild Early Childhood Center.

Ashley hopes to go back to school and obtain her master’s degree to work in social work and pay it forward to families by helping them navigate the overwhelming world of special education services. To that end, she also wants to support families fleeing domestic violence situations, like she and her children had to do, to make their journeys just a little easier.  

<b>Mansie Meikle</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Queens, New York City</em></small>
Mansie, a mom of three, has struggled for the past few years to find access to high-quality, affordable child care. This challenge limited her ability to work and provide for her family. Since then, Mansie has been relentlessly working to improve child care and do whatever is in her power to prevent another family from going through what hers did. She likes to say that the definition of a system is a set of things working together; because the current child care “system” doesn’t work for everyone, it is not truly a system. 

She is involved with ECE On The Move, Moms Rising, and the Empire State Campaign for Child Care. Through the Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy Lab, she hopes to advocate for a system that is connected and truly works for all.

<b>Merowe Nubyahn</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Brooklyn, New York City</em></small>

Merowe, a mom to children ranging in age from adult to infant, recently welcomed her eighth daughter into the world. Merowe’s first pregnancy was at the tender age of 16. As a teenage mother, she experienced many challenges she has overcome such as homelessness, domestic violence, unemployment, and several losses. Prior to the pandemic, Merowe worked as a home health aide and hospice aide for 16 years. Aside from caring for her children, Merowe now is the founder of The AnkhsGiving Collective, which is an organization that focuses on Indigenous peoples and their contributions to history. The AnkshGiving Collective also recognizes youth for their contributions to their communities annually, and Merowe creates programs through creative arts, writing, dance, and music, all of which give children the opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment. In the future, she hopes to further her education and looks forward to advancing her knowledge from the Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy Lab and applying it to her day-to-day life.

<b>Rosario Jimenez Ramirez</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Brooklyn, New York City</em></small>
Rosario Jimenez Ramirez, a mom to three children, has volunteered in different educational and community-based organization settings since 2009. She has always been passionate about supporting her family, relatives, neighbors, and community to achieve their well-being by accompanying them and sharing resources.

Rosario first came to the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager, at an age when she did not understand immigration status or the legality of settling in the United States. Rosario came from a single-mom family; her father passed away when she was two years old. Due to her mom needing to work, her grandmother raised her. These admirable women in Rosario’s life gave her invaluable values guiding Rosario to this day.

When Rosario became a mother and her first child started an early education program, Rosario realized that academic education is essential to a healthy life and economic stability. She decided to study for the GED while being a housewife; by that time, Rosario had two children. With her husband’s and family’s support, she completed her GED in 2012, applied, and was approved for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in 2013. In 2016, she graduated from a community health certification course at a workforce program with Make the Road New York. Previously, she worked as an Environmental Health / Early Education Advocate at LSA Family Health Service. Currently, she works in a faith organization where the purpose is to carry the mission and vision of the Little Sisters of the Assumption into the future. Rosario’s personal goal is to be able to attend college and graduate as a school counselor.

In early 2020 Rosario’s family was separated due to her husband being deported to their country of origin. By staying united, they have been coping with the situation and hope they all will be physically reunited in the future. Rosario’s dream for her children and for all children in the world is that they are happy and healthy — physically, mentally, and socially.

<b>Dr. Erica Webster</b><br /><em><small style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px;">Corning, New York</em></small>

Dr. Erica Webster is a mom of two and a licensed therapeutic foster parent. Dr. Webster serves as the director of research at Youth Research Inc. She is currently working on the development of a Center for Excellence of Evidence-Based Programs. Her past work includes the examination of a pilot of infant/early childhood mental health consultation (focused on home-based childcare providers). Her research interests include early childhood development, social-emotional development, resilience, family wellbeing, and adverse childhood experiences. Dr. Webster holds a doctorate in education, a master’s in literacy, and an undergraduate degree in special education. In addition, she has many years of professional experience working as an educator in the field of early childhood. Dr. Webster has participated in the Empire State Campaign for Child Care and is interested in continuing her advocacy through the Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy Lab for improved early childhood systems, including ensuring that children in foster care are considered in advocacy spaces. 

For More Information

To connect with these incredible leaders and learn more about their work with the Early Childhood Advocacy & Policy Lab, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Jenn O’Connor, Director of Partnerships and Early Childhood Policy, at [email protected]

For media inquiries, please email Elizabeth Chmurak at [email protected]