Jessica Mills Clark shows materials that are part of the Best Beginnnings program for families with young children.

At the Chamber of Commerce Lunch on Wednesday, two educators from Community Connections talked about early childhood education in Ketchikan.

A few people at the Chamber Lunch shed some tears after Jessica Mills Clark and Adrienne O’Brien played a short video that encourages communities to invest in early childhood programs.

The video shows children who were in unstable homes and school environments unprepared for kindergarten. It ended with healthy and happy kids who were ready for school.

Clark said Ketchikan has many programs to help young children. One is the Alaska state initiative called Strengthening Families. It’s meant to prevent child abuse and neglect.

“This program is for everyone,” Clark said. “Because as a parent or as a family member, when haven’t you needed some support in the course of your life?”

She held up five fingers, each standing for one of the protective factors that are part of the initiative: parental resilience, social connections, concrete support, knowledge of childhood development, and social emotional development of young children.

“This is where these lifelong skills are developed – all under the age of 5,” Clark said.

Clark also discussed a new pilot program in Ketchikan called the Family, Infant, and Toddler Court Team. It connects organizations around Ketchikan with families that have kids in foster care.

The goal is to either try to bring the child back into their family’s home in a healthy and safe way, or to place them in a permanent foster home.

“One child that was in our program was 2 years old and she had already been in 6 foster homes,” Clark said. “And that’s a lot. That might be a lot more than the average, but I’m thinking the average is still pretty high. It’s about 4 placements for children under 3.”

O’Brien talked about the Best Beginnings program, which helps prepare young children for school.

The Ketchikan Passport for Kids [pictured] is included in that program. It’s a little turquoise booklet with boxes kids can stamp when they’ve traveled to exciting destinations like the Main Street Gallery or the doctor’s office.

“They’re meant to encourage families to get out with their kids and go to the rec center, to the library, to the swimming pool,” O’Brien said.

There is more information about early childhood programs at the Community Connections website,