Sheila is the Center's policy director. Prior to joining the organization in 2004, she was the executive director of the Iowa Head Start Association. Sheila wins our "longest commute" award: she and her family live in Fort Dodge.
How did you get started with lobbying and advocacy?
Right out college I worked for WIC, a nutrition program for babies and young children, and I discovered there were a lot of families who were frustrated with the program’s processes and rules. This frustration often posed as a barrier to these families getting the support they needed. So, I started looking for ways to change the rules, essentially becoming an advocate in the process. I continued working with WIC families before switching to Head Start—and I guess the rest is history.
What has been surprising, rewarding and/or challenging about your role?
It’s been very rewarding to see hard work and effort make a difference in the lives of Iowans. For example, hearing stories about Iowans who became eligible for health care following our work around Medicaid expansion was memorable. That people underestimate the obstacles we face as child advocates is both surprising and challenging. Almost everyone claims to support kids, but in reality, priorities are made and we work extremely hard to give children’s issues the attention they deserve.
What policies or issue areas are you currently working on?
Child care is a big topic right now. Lately, we’ve been partnering with the Iowa Women’s Foundation to better understand the child care issues facing communities across the state. We’re listening to local Iowans, providing educational and advocacy resources, and identifying solutions tailored to each community. There’s also a lot going on with Early Childhood Iowa (ECI), a partnership of public and private stakeholders working to improve the access to child care, education and health care for Iowa’s youngest kids. I’m a member of the ECI Public/Private Partnership Committee, and our goal is to get more businesses involved with issues facing families and kids—child care access, health care, paid family leave, and so on. Not only do we want businesses to implement family-friendly practices in their organization; we also want them to advocate for these practices when the state legislature is in session.
Why is the Center’s involvement with ECI so important?
ECI is essentially the primary network for issues related to kids in Iowa. When it comes to child policy, both the state legislature and the governor look to ECI for recommendations and advice. This underscores our potential for influence, because ECI has the ability to shape the policy priorities in Iowa. I’d also mention that ECI poses a great opportunity to learn first-hand the issues facing Iowans throughout the state. As advocates we can lobby at the statehouse, pretending to know what Iowans need. Or, we can seek out these communities and work to identify issues and solutions based on stories and feedback. ECI provides this valuable opportunity, and it undoubtedly makes our work that much more meaningful.
Isn’t there an ECI event coming up?
ECI is celebrating its 20th anniversary at this year’s Iowa Summit, scheduled for October 3, 2018. Located at the Sheraton West Des Moines, the event will bring together key stakeholders, including business leaders, state legislators, former governors—even a representative from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—to focus on issues related to Iowa’s youngest kids.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love traveling with family. Recently, we’ve been visiting local parks in Iowa—a nice change of pace from traveling long distances. I also enjoy gardening and reading, when I have time.