Opening Keynote

Steve Pemberton

Considered one of America’s most inspiring business and HR leaders, Steve Pemberton’s triumphant life story is about defying seemingly insurmountable beginnings as a child orphaned into foster care. As told in the major motion picture and acclaimed, best-selling memoir, A Chance in the World, adversity only fueled his desire to become a man of resilience, determination and vision. Steve went on to find success as a corporate executive, innovative diversity and inclusion thought leader, visionary youth advocate and acclaimed speaker devoted to inspiring and helping others. Steve’s keynotes, like his life story, amplify his highly motivational messages: Believe in your dreams, rise above obstacles, create opportunities for others, and most of all, persevere.


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Closing Keynote

Junlei Li

Did You Ever Wonder About the Difference You Make?

How do we improve quality of human development when we cannot quickly change the significant inequities of resources in our neighborhoods? How do we believe in and stick to what really matters in our work, when the things being “counted” in our system do not always reflect “what counts” on the frontlines of service? How do we support our families well when we struggle with the supports we need ourselves? This closing talk is a reflection about the challenges we face as part of the helping profession and a hopeful affirmation about the ways we can and do make a difference by being helpers in our communities, with our families, and for each other.

Junlei Li is the Saul Zaentz Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His research and practice focuses on understanding and supporting the work of helpers – those who serve children and families on the frontlines of education and social services. Li studied and learned from a wide range of developmental settings with low resources but high-quality practices, including orphanages, childcare, classrooms, and community youth programs. He developed the “Simple Interactions” approach to help identify what ordinary people do extraordinarily well with children in everyday moments and made that the basis for promoting positive system change.


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Brenda Blasingame, Health Connect One

When a Peer Comes Knocking: An equity focused approach to pregnancy, birth, and early parenting

How do you feel when you’re facing a challenge and someone in your community who has faced this same challenge offers you support? Especially in communities which have been historically marginalized and inadequately served, peer support during pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting is shown to be highly effective. When support comes from peers who are of and from the same community as their clients, with similar lived experiences, they are able to bridge language and cultural barriers and they serve as role models for optimal health and well-being.

Brenda Blasingame, Executive Director of HealthConnect One, will discuss strategies which have emerged from her organization’s 30-plus years of developing effective breastfeeding peer counselor and community-based doula programs based on the strengths, vision and lived experience of each community served.

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JUNLEI LI, Harvard Graduate School of Education

What Are Relationships Made Of? A Video-based Workshop on Noticing and Appreciating Beautiful Human Interactions in Unexpected Places

What is deep and simple in the work of early childhood? From orphanages to impoverished neighborhoods, we can discover caregivers’ ordinary yet powerful human interactions. By capturing and learning from what ordinary people do extraordinarily well in simple, everyday moments, we can nurture intuition into intention, grow communities of practice, and imagine a theory of action for sustainable improvement by enriching human relationships across our early development system. This is a video-based, skill-focused interactive workshop based on the “Simple Interactions” approach, for professionals who serve children and families and for those whose primary responsibility is to coach, teach, and support front-line professionals.

Deborah Stein

Deborah Stein

Lizette Escobedo

Lizette Escobedo

Jamie Gomez

Jamie Gomez


Deborah Stein, Network Director, Partnership for America’s Children

Lizette Escobedo, Director of National Census Program, NALEO Educational Fund

Jamie Gomez, External Affairs Director, National Congress of American Indians

Helping Young Children Thrive: The Role of Home Visiting Programs in Counting Young Children in the 2020 Census

In 2010, the Decennial Census missed over two million young children; as a result, states lost billions of dollars for programs that serve children. This session will explore the ways that home visiting programs can help make sure all young children are counted in 2020. In this mini plenary session, we will review the reasons why young children are missed in the Census and describe the tools that the Count All Kids Campaign will make available to Complete Count Committees, advocates, and service providers. We will also discuss important facts that affect parents and caregivers, and share resources that benefit parents and caregivers to support the elimination of young Latino child undercount gaps for Census 2020. Lastly, you will learn some information about the Native youth demographic and describe how the Indian Country Count initiative is working with partners to make sure we have a full and accurate count, including our Native youth.

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Children's Authors Session

Stuart J. Murphy 

Stuart J. Murphy is a visual learning strategist and children’s book author.

Stuart is the author of the award-winning MathStart series, which includes a total of 63 children’s books that present mathematical concepts in the context of stories for Pre-K through Grade 4. A related musical, the Main Street Kids’ Club, was created at Northwestern University and has been performed by children’s theaters and schools across the country.

He is also the author of Stuart J. Murphy’s I SEE I LEARN, a 16-book series of storybooks for children in Pre-K, Kindergarten and Grade 1 that focus on social, emotional, health and safety, and cognitive skills.

Stuart is a member of the authorship team of a number of mathematics programs published by Pearson Education, including enVisionMATH, a comprehensive elementary school series.

A graduate and trustee emeritus of the Rhode Island School of Design, he has been a participant and/or speaker in programs at the Reggio Emilia International Study Center, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair. He is also a frequent presenter at meetings of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and other professional organizations. He served on the Advisory Council of the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for a period of 12 years.

Most of all, Stuart is an advocate for using visual learning strategies to help students succeed in school and in life. 

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Children's Authors Session

Ruth Spiro

Ruth never imagined she’d be a writer - until she tried it. Now she writes books for children, including the award-winning Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist. Her articles and essays have been published in CHILD, Disney’s FamilyFun, The Writer, and Chicago Parent. Ruth’s stories have also been included in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time, edited by Marlo Thomas, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles.

Ruth graduated with a B.S. in Communications from the University of Illinois and worked for advertising agencies in both account management and broadcast production. She earned an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago, and coordinated several large-scale research studies, including a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Ruth has attended the Highlights Writer’s Workshop at Chautauqua, the Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop with Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and a 4-day intensive Picture Book Master Class with Jane Yolen. Her writing has earned awards from Writer’s Digest magazine, Willamette Writers, Half-Price Books, and Byline Magazine.