By Jayne Gibson In 2011, a group of community leaders convened with one focus — to improve the quality of life in Austin by 2020. Hundreds of volunteers came together, inspired by the successes of other communities. LeeAnn Ettinger was one of those volunteers; however, the role she played made her more than just one of many. It made her unique in that she not only played a key role in the creation and launch of Austin Aspires, she became an active board member to ensure success from the start. On the eve of 2020, her consecutive terms as a board member will be complete. As Jennifer Lawhead, the first Executive Director of Austin Aspires, reflected on the role Ettinger had in the organization, she said, “I don’t think anything would have happened with this work without her passion for the project, educational prowess and care for the education of young people in our community. She cares deeply about this work and was so actively engaged that she was a gift to our organization.” For many of the years as an Austin Aspires’ board member, Ettinger served in the role of President of the Board. During this time, Austin Aspires was able to secure financial support, establish itself as an independent 501c3, become part of the statewide coalition of the Education Partnership Coalition, engage numerous community partners in this work and numerous other things that proved instrumental to successfully launching Austin Aspires in a meaningful way. Ettinger’s commitment is evident in the fibers of Austin Aspires. Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz said, “Through LeeAnn’s leadership, not only as a Board Member but also as an active participant in many of the Austin Aspires’ Action Committees she has provided insight and direction as we, Austin Aspires and Austin Public Schools, work to achieve our goals as a community and as an educational organization.” The close of December 2019 will mark the completion of Ettinger’s time as an official member of the Austin Aspires’ Board. Although she will no longer play an official role in the organization, her lasting impact will be evident throughout the organization and the work in the community the organization has done. On behalf of Austin Aspires, we want to publicly acknowledge Ettinger for the incredible work she has done on our behalf. We are extremely grateful to Ettinger for the sharing of her time, wisdom and passion for others. Every organization needs a champion as committed to their cause as Ettinger was for us from day one.
Director of Austin Aspires In April, 2019, a collaborative of several Austin community organizations, including the Community Learning Center, Woodson, Pacelli Catholic Schools, the Parenting Resource Center, Wee Learning Center, Austin Public Library, and Austin Aspires, was awarded a grant from the PrairieCare Child and Family Fund to help support healthy emotional development in our youngest learners with the implementation of Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline practices throughout our organizations. Conscious Discipline is a tool that empowers parents and adults with the mental shifts and practical skills needed to ease the negative effects of stress on children. Childhood stress is a big deal. In a 2013 study, about 60 percent of adults reported childhood trauma including verbal, physical or sexual abuse, or family dysfunction such as incarceration, mental illness or substance abuse (Gerwin), all of which have the effect of causing tremendous stress among our youngest learners. Some reports suggest the stress level is even higher in our children today. As adults, we understand that every day life evokes a variety of emotions. We accept that situations will bring us happiness, joy, anger, sadness, frustration and many others. However, as parents, we often forget to talk to our children about their feelings and appropriate ways to express them. Additionally, as adults, we respond to a child’s behavior and range of emotions differently depending on our own childhood experiences. For example, if a parent was raised in a home where it was seen as a sign of weakness for a boy to cry, the parent may punish or berate his/her young son for crying. Brain research tells us that we react in the ways we are most familiar and in the ways that have been modeled for us. Conscious Discipline helps provide the tools to help us understand that as the adult in the situation, we need to take a step back and find out why our son is crying, what he is trying to tell us, and how can we empower him to understand his options. Adults must learn to interact in ways that promote mutual respect and being responsive to the needs of others. That is the key to healthy relationships. When adults model this behavior for children, as well as engage children in meaningful conversations in safe environments, children are set up to better understand and handle the stressors of life. Receiving this grant has provided an opportunity for multiple agencies to work together toward a common goal. Sharing resources, knowledge and learning together, these agencies have made each other stronger and better equipped to meet the needs of our children and families.