Airole Warden’s voice did not falter.
She had climbed into her black Chevy pickup in the pre-dawn, pulling out of her driveway at 5:30 a.m. to make the almost three-hour journey to the State House from northern Coös County.
She had never been to Concord before.
Airole, project manager for the Coös County Director Network of early childhood centers and a policy advocacy strategy manager of the Coös Coalition for Young Children and Families, had come to testify on a bill seeking to address workforce needs, affordability and limited access to child care in New Hampshire.
The pandemic made it undeniably clear how critical child care is to communities and the economy. Centers around the state got federal pandemic relief aid that helped some — but hardly all — stay in operation. Statewide, centers are struggling to stay staffed and open and parents are struggling to find and afford quality care for their young children. Three centers closed in the North Country in recent months.
In an effort to bring the voices of the North Country to policy conversations about early childhood in Concord, the Foundation made a grant for advocacy coaching for early childhood professionals from the state’s northern reaches.
“I am bringing the voice of the people who don’t have the time, gas money and child care to be here,” Airole said. “Early childhood professionals are the essential workforce behind the workforce.”
Airole spoke that day for the early-childhood teacher who burst into grateful tears when she learned that her wage would increase from $9 to $11 an hour. She spoke for the police chief in Lancaster who was searching for child care for two new officers whom he had hired — but who could not work without child care. She spoke for the center director in Gorham whose waitlist includes children of nurses, dental hygienists, teachers and prison workers; for the director in Berlin who just closed her doors after more than three decades.
When she went back to her seat, her hands were shaking.
Airole was invited back to speak at a legislative breakfast the very next week. This time, when she raised her voice for children and families of the North Country, her hands did not shake.