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Betty Jo Gaines
Purpose Prize Fellow 2011
Gaines helps homeless families with children break the poverty cycle by providing free, individualized childcare, education and family services.
Toward the end of her 30-year tenure at the Washington, D.C., Department of Parks and Recreation, Betty Jo Gaines noted an increasing number of homeless families with children. Known for her warmth and passion for families, she started a childcare program in response. So it’s no surprise that once she retired from the department, she became executive director in 2001 of Bright Beginnings Inc., which provides education, therapeutic, health and family support services for homeless children and their families.
Every year, Bright Beginnings helps about 150 homeless children get on the path to stability through free developmental childcare, kindergarten preparation, therapeutic care and more. The organization helps parents find employment, finish their education and secure permanent housing.
“I am inspired every day by the positive changes I see in our children, whether infant, toddler or preschooler,” says Gaines. “I like the fact that Bright Beginnings children consider this their home.”
Under Gaines’ leadership, the organization has doubled its funding, hired credentialed teachers, received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children – only 8 percent of programs nationwide are so accredited – and has been recognized as a program with the “gold standard of excellence” by the Department of Human Services’ Office of Early Childhood Development. Gaines now aims to open a second center for homeless children in the city’s most economically devastated area that will reach 100 more children each year.