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Children's Book Challenge Announced

Every Child Thrives has announced the kick-off of its TalkReadPlay Children's Book Challenge. The goal of the book challenge is to provide new books to economically disadvantaged children in Dodge and Jefferson Counties, ages newborn to five, who may not have books in their homes.


In Dodge and Jefferson Counties, only 24% of third-graders from low-income families read at grade-level. The majority of these children start school behind their more advantaged peers and never catch up. Children who have access to books in their homes read at higher levels, giving them the best chance of future academic success, health and economic stability. 


"We want the children in our community to have the best start to their education possible," said Tarasa Lown, Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation (GWCHF) Program Officer and facilitator of Every Child Thrives. "If we can place books in the homes of the children who need them most, we are taking a big step toward this goal."


The TalkReadPlay Children's Book Challenge aims to raise $12,500, putting approximately 4,000 books in homes across the two counties. Online monetary donations will be accepted through the non-profit First Book. Local TalkReadPlay Impact Partners will use the funds to select educator recommended, age-appropriate books for the children they serve.


Lyle Wuestenberg, TalkReadPlay supporter and co-owner of J&L Tire, challenges local businesses and individuals to donate.


"On behalf of my family and the family at J&L Tire, we encourage our entire community to rally together and support our children," said Wuestenberg. "These children will grow up to be our future employees and neighbors. When we give them books to read at home, we are helping them succeed in school and life."


Lown suggests businesses participate by raising funds through employee challenges, matching donations or by giving the "gift of literacy" for their holiday giving programs.


Individuals and families are encouraged to participate as well. Donations can be made to commemorate a special occasion, engage fellow book lovers, mark a milestone or in memory of a friend or loved one. When donations are made in someone's honor, an optional letter and certificate can be emailed to the honoree.

The TalkReadPlay Children's Book Challenge will run through December 31.

For a list of TalkReadPlay partners, visit


For more information or to donate, visit or call Andi Merfeld, GWCHF Community Engagement and Grants Coordinator at 920-390-4682.


TalkReadPlay is an evidence-based parent education campaign of Every Child Thrives, a collaborative effort supported by the GWCHF. The campaign teaches parents and caregivers the science behind early brain development and empowers them to create more learning opportunities with their babies and young children.

Watertown Daily Times

Foundation Commits $4 Million to Early Learning

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation will invest more than $4 million in TalkReadPlay efforts over the next five years to provide high quality early learning opportunities to families with young children. The foundation's investment will develop the new Watertown children's library as a flagship TalkReadPlay center and allocateTalkReadPlay programming resources to family-serving agencies across Dodge and Jefferson counties.

TalkReadPlay is an evidence-based parent education initiative of Every Child Thrives, a collaborative effort supported by the health foundation. TalkReadPlay relies on trusted messengers, such as community health and human service professionals, physicians and early education providers to teach parents the science behind brain development and empower them to create more learning opportunities with their babies and young children. To date, more than 20 Dodge and Jefferson county organizations have adopted the TalkReadPlay model and 300 individuals have been trained to provide families with TalkReadPlay messaging and tools.

"Healthy early child development is a key priority for the GWCHF and we are committed to supporting evidence-based, collaborative efforts so children are healthy, ready for kindergarten and succeeding in school," said health foundation board Chairwoman Karla Mullen. "We are thrilled to provide funding to help our partners implement TalkReadPlay, which will have positive impact on families."

The health foundation's commitment includes a $2.5 million capital grant and $800,000 in programming and technical assistance resources for the Watertown Public Library. The foundation has committed an additional $800,000 in TalkReadPlay resources to support public libraries and family-serving agencies throughout the rest of Dodge and Jefferson counties.

Watertown Public Library, Watertown Family Center, Watertown Unified School District, Watertown Public Health and other Every Child Thrives members will serve as collaborating partners to develop the new library center as a best-practice model supporting families and young children.

"Ninety percent of brain development occurs during a child's earliest years of life. It's at this time children develop the foundation for all future learning, and parent interaction has the single greatest influence on early brain development," said Tina Crave, health foundation president and CEO. "Our goal with the TalkReadPlay investments is to give parents and caregivers tools to promote the early learning children need to gain communication, critical thinking and 'life skills' to thrive in the 21st century workforce."

"The TalkReadPlay center will be designed to engage children and families beginning at birth and provide opportunities for adults and children to play and learn together," Crave said.

Activities at the center will be designed based on child development research, promoting early vocabulary, social development and problem-solving skills through active play and adult-child interaction.

"Science shows that young children learn best through interactive play and movement. The TalkReadPlay center will be a vibrant and fun learning environment, a destination for families throughout the region," Crave said.

Library Director Peg Checkai said the library board and staff are excited for the opportunities the TalkReadPlay center will provide for children and families.

"Much of a child's learning and brain development happens long before a child ever starts school," Checkai said. "Parent-child interaction plays a critical role during this time. Through programming and parent-child activities offered at the TalkReadPlay center, we will support parents and caregivers to become their child's first teacher."

Formed out of the 2015 joint venture between Watertown Regional Medical Center and LifePoint Health, the health foundation is a catalyst for positive, lasting and measurable health improvement across the region. The foundation's mission is to inspire collaboration, mobilize resources and encourage innovation that measurably contributes to the wellbeing of our communities.

The health foundation strategically focuses resources to "move the needle" on priority community health indicators including healthy child development, social and emotional wellbeing, healthy eating and active living. To date, the health foundation has invested more than $3.5 million in health enhancement initiatives across Dodge and Jefferson counties.

Every Child Thrives, a partnership of more than 30 community partner organizations working collectively to improve outcomes for young children, was created in 2017 and is facilitated by the health foundation. To learn more visit To learn more about TalkReadPlay or to download the early learning app, visit

The Watertown Unified School District, Dodgeland School District and community partners are working together to rally students to attend school on time, every day.

Through their partnership with Every Child Thrives, local elementary schools will kick off the school year with a data-driven, national best practice attendance challenge called "Challenge 5" to encourage students to strive for less than five days absent.

"Creating good attendance habits early is critical to a student's academic success," said Brad Clark, Webster Elementary School principal. "Children who are chronically absent in elementary school are more likely to be chronically absent in later years, since they never developed good attendance habits."

In Wisconsin, students are considered chronically absent when they miss 10 or more days of school in an academic year. Locally, 30 percent of students in kindergarten and first grade fall into this category. When elementary students are chronically absent, they often have difficulty keeping up with their peers academically and tend to fall behind in reading.

When students improve their school attendance, their grades and reading skills often improve -- even among those students who are struggling in school.

"When students are able to read at grade-level by the end of third grade, they successfully transition from 'learning to read' to 'reading to learn,'" said Jessica Johnson, Dodgeland Elementary School principal. "These students are three to four times more likely to graduate high school, setting them up for a strong future."

Regular attendance is the precursor to the "soft skills" that employers will expect and require. Students who don't develop the habits associated with good attendance in the early years will find it difficult to develop them as adults.

Using attendance data from last school year, each elementary school has set its unique outcome measurements for improved attendance. By closely monitoring each student, the schools will work to increase the number of children who are absent five days or less during the school year.

Attendance teams in each school will educate students and families on the negative impact of too many absences, recognize good and improved attendance, and closely monitor absences in order to offer personalized early outreach for students and families in need of additional support.

Community members are asked to support "Challenge 5" by encouraging children to be in school every day, offering to help with rides to school, sharing the importance of school attendance with families, or reinforcing the "Challenge 5" message in the workplace.

ECT is a collaborative effort of more than 30 community organizations working together to ensure all children thrive in health, learning and life. The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation provides financial support and facilitation for the partnership.

Since its creation in September 2017, the health foundation has invested more than $3.2 million in health enhancement initiatives across Dodge and Jefferson counties. To learn more about the foundation and supported initiatives, visit or Facebook at Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation.


WATERTOWN — If you really want to help kids, you can make the most difference while they're young.

Helping local parents and communities maximize their children's learning and development at an early age is the goal of a new initiative being funded by the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation. Cooperating in this effort are the Jefferson County Health Department, Jefferson County Human Services Department, and numerous other area agencies, nonprofits and professional organizations in the field of child development.

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation got its start in 2015, when the Watertown hospital was sold to a private entity and the hospital's community foundation rolled over into the new foundation.

Since 2017, the foundation has invested more than $2.5 million in health enhancement initiatives across Dodge and Jefferson counties.

Following its formation, the foundation spent a year doing a local health needs assessment, said Tina Crave, president and CEO of the foundation. The goal of the assessment was to narrow the group's efforts to top priority issues the foundation could focus on in hopes of maximizing its impact.

With this information in hand, planners determined that one of the group's greatest priorities would be boosting early childhood development. Thus, the overarching campaign called "Every Child Thrives" was born.

More than 30 organizations across Dodge and Jefferson counties have signed on to "Every Child Thrives."

The initiative set three key goals: lowering child abuse and neglect, making sure youngsters arrive at kindergarten "ready to learn," and increasing local students' reading proficiency by the third grade.

"Until third grade, students are learning to read, but after that, they're reading to learn," Crave said.

Studies have shown that youngsters who fail to master reading by the third grade face continued learning challenges, leading to more problems down the line, including employment and relationship challenges in adulthood.

The Every Child Thrives group developed three action teams, bringing in facilitators to determine the root causes of the three problems on which it was focusing.

Crave said one of the root causes was determined to be lack of awareness of how critical the early months and years of life are in terms of a child's development.

The single greatest stimulus to learning and growth at this early age, research has shown, is a child's experience with loving relationships and interactions with adults.

Obstacles that can get in the way of these very important relationships include electronics, heavy job demands, and parents who are struggling in other areas that prevent them from bringing their "best selves" to their parenting role.

"Our goal is to make parents aware of the importance of these early interactions and to provide the tools to allow parents to be a great ‘first teacher' for their child," Crave said.

Children are born ready to learn. In the first years of life, the brain makes a million new neural connections per second. By their fifth birthday, 90 percent of a child's brain development has already happened, researchers have determined. But the brain doesn't do this on its own, it depends on input from parents and others in the form of focused, loving interactions and conversations.

That's where the new Talk/Read/Play initiative comes in, which already has been adopted as a priority strategy by more than 20 local partners, with more than 250 "trusted messengers" trained to date.

"When parents talk, read and play with their babies and young children, they have an enormous positive impact on brain development, a process referred to as ‘brain building,'" said Tarasa Lown, a program officer for the initiative.

This need not take a whole lot of time, Crave noted. Important interactions can be worked right into the daily rhythm, during shopping trips, dishwashing and bathtime.

Thus, the Talk/Read/Play campaign is designed to give parents the tools to foster this early growth and development with brief, creative interactions, backed up by the science behind brain development.

The campaign, the full name of which is "Talk/Read/Play with Your Child Every Day," will have three fronts.

First, organizers hope to spread the word to "trusted messengers" throughout the community, from doctors and nurses to librarians, community volunteers, early childhood educators, members of the faith community and more, people and families interact with on a regular basis who are in a trusted position.

Second, organizers are offering parents a free, easy-to-use tool in the form of the "Daily Vroom" app, available in both English and Spanish.

This is a free app that parents can sign up for just by entering their child's birthdate. Then every day, the app will suggest a "surprise activity" that could be as simple as having the child pick up a leaf from the ground and determine the tree from which it came.

Other simple suggestions include telling stories to babies, singing to them in the tub, talking about favorite family memories, or making a young child the star of his or her own story.

"When you tell children stories and sing songs in a fun way, you share the importance of language and music," reads a Brain Building Tip on the Talk/Read/Play flyer. "Your baby is hearing new sounds and words, making connections by listening to your stories and songs."

"Interacting with children doesn't come naturally to everyone — especially when the child is too young to respond," Crave said. "These are easy ideas that everybody can do."

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation representative said that the "Daily Vroom" app is gaining traction nationally among child development experts and advocates. In Wisconsin, Dodge and Jefferson counties are among those taking the lead, and the app is also being promoted in Milwaukee through the Betty Brinn Museum.

Third, organizers will be reinforcing the "Talk/Read/Play" message in local communities through posters in exam rooms and libraries, billboards, radio messages, lawn signs and more.

In addition, the group has developed a website to connect parents with information and resources. Developed by the Dodge/Jefferson county group, it can be found online at It has a ".wi" web address because many of the agencies and organizations that the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation is working with serve multiple counties and this was more inclusive.

The foundation only just has begun the process of rolling out the Talk/Read/Play initiative.

The group distributed information at the recent Johnson Creek Child Safety Fair, and the campaign officially kicked off last Saturday at the Watertown Public Library, the first dedicated community space for the campaign.

As a public Talk/Read/Play site, the library is decorated with posters, information, and interactive tools. Signs in the library challenge youngsters to spot all of the circles or red shapes, for example.

"We plan to spend a year to 18 months rolling this out," Crave said. During that time, organizers will be working with all of the foundation's partners to integrate the Talk/Read/Play message and related information into their operations.

For example, home visitors from the Jefferson County Health Department will be educated on the campaign, as will representatives of Child Protective Services, which will have information on how Talk/Read/Play can serve as a tool for foster families.

"Overall, we're committing to a five-year effort," Crave said. "We want to help our partners embed these tools into their daily practices."

The community education campaign will be publicizing Talk/Read/Play on a variety of fronts.

This fall, organizers are working with various community partners to develop a Talk/Read/Play playground and a Talk/Read/Play storytime for young children at local libraries and family center(s).

Meanwhile, representatives actively are training a variety of community "trusted messengers," as well as offering presentations for groups of professionals or service organizations interested in learning more.

Crave noted that anyone interested in having a representative speak to their group about Talk/Read/Play may indicate that interest on the Talk/Read/Play website, located at, or call the Greater Watertown Community Foundation at (920) 390-4000.

More information about Talk/Read/Play is also available on the initiative's Facebook page, which offers brain-building activities, parenting tips, news on family-oriented community events and more. More information about the foundation is available on or its Facebook page.

Every Child Thrives invites community leaders and interested supporters to attend its first All Team Huddle where the Action Teams will prepare to launch their implementation strategies. The event will take place on Friday, April 6th, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. in the lower level meeting room at the Bank of Lake Mills, 400 Bernard St., Watertown.

In addition, the Every Child Thrives' Action Teams, Transformation Council, Data Team and Communications Team, will share what they've learned, final recommendations and 2018 action plans.

Huddle action items will include:

  • Finalize the launch of a community campaign called TalkReadPlay, designed to encourage early brain building activities and provide free child development tools for parents and caregivers
  • Prepare to launch a community-wide school attendance campaign at the start of the 2018/19 school year
  • Plan to expand universal developmental screening and parent education using the evidence-based Ages & Stages screening tools
  • Learn about best practices in strengthening families through parent education and preventative, early-intervention services
  • Celebrate ECT's acceptance into the Campaign for Grade Level Reading as well as a national trauma-informed, resilience-oriented learning community hosted by the National Council on Behavioral Health

Any individual or community organization with an interest in becoming involved in Every Child Thrives is welcome to attend the Huddle. Space is limited for this event. To register, visit

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation (GWCHF) provides the backbone support for Every Child Thrives. The mission of the foundation is to inspire collaboration, mobilize resources and encourage innovation that measurably contributes to the wellbeing of our communities. To learn more about the GWCHF and Every Child Thrives, visit

The campaign is a national collaborative effort to improve reading proficiency, early learning and early school success for all children, especially those from low-income families.

"This campaign represents a tremendous opportunity for our schools and our community to partner together to share the importance of literacy for our students and our families. I believe this campaign and our work with Every Child Thrives will not only help improve our students' achievement in school, but also establish a strong foundation for future successes of our students, our families, our schools and our community," said Cassandra Schug, superintendent of Watertown Unified School District.

Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical milestone toward high school graduation and success later in life because it marks the transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." Students who have not mastered reading by that time are more likely to drop out of high school and struggle throughout their lives.

"Our schools have a steadfast commitment to ensuring all learners can read and write at grade level or higher," added Annette Thompson, superintendent of Dodgeland School District. "This commitment is not dependent upon where a student resides nor derailed by the life circumstances that may make learning more challenging for a child. Ensuring a high-quality education is provided for every child is both our mission and our responsibility. The partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading will enable our schools to do this essential work effectively and efficiently."

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation is providing coordination and backbone support for the Every Child Thrives and Campaign for Grade-Level Reading efforts.

"Currently, only 39 percent of our children are reading proficiently by third grade," said Tina Crave, President and CEO of the foundation. "Alarmingly, less than one in four economically disadvantaged children in our community achieve reading proficiency by third-grade. We have been inspired and impressed with the outcomes achieved by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading communities throughout the country, and we are honored to be selected to participate in the national efforts."

By Sarah Weihert

After talking to community members, Tina Crave, president and CEO of the foundation says they found out the foundation for lifelong health and success begins during pregnancy and the earliest years of life. Ninety percent of brain development happens during the first three years of life.

Strong and healthy relationships with caring adults is critical for children to thrive and the lack of those relationships or prolonged stress in a child's life because of emotional abuse or neglect can have a lifelong impact.

Every Child Thrives kicked off in the spring and is a collective of community members using their talents to use data to drive decisions and aligning resources to support what works.

The initial scope will include children ages prenatal through third grade and their families located in the Watertown and Dodgeland school districts. The initiative will look to drive long-term change in three areas:

  • All children healthy, increasing opportunities for positive social and emotional development to promote health and resiliency.
  • All children ready for school, children are physically, academically, socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten.
  • All children succeed in school, all children will be reading at grade level by third grade.

"Every Child Thrives will provide parents, families and organizations with the tools to help nurture children's minds," Crave said. "Every Child Thrives will also work to empower parents, helping them succeed as a child's first teacher."

The initiative will work to do early developmental screening and combat chronic absenteeism in schools. "These programs are key to improving children's health, reducing abuse and neglect and increasing readiness for school."

Every Child Thrives does not need money from volunteers.

"The good news is we are not asking for your money. We are simply asking if we can count on you to show your support for the work of Every Child Thrives," said Annette Thompson, Dodgeland superintendent. "That means that every child in Dodge and Jefferson counties will be given the opportunity to realize his or her full potential."

By Sarah Weihert

"There is no app better than your lap," says Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an associate professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health who practices primary care pediatrists, during the Healthy Child, Thriving Communities-Tomorrow's Workforce Develops Today event Monday morning at Turner Hall.

Navsaria was one of three speakers at the event discussing the impact of early childhood on lifelong health and occupational success. "Today we hope to engage your hearts and minds by investing in our children," said Tina Crave, president and CEO, Watertown Community Health Foundation. "The seed for Every Child Thrives was born when our foundation began to work with partners to begin to assess community needs."

The foundation is spearheading the Every Child Thrives movement in the area. After speaking with hundreds of people in Jefferson and Dodge counties, the foundation learned some staggering statistics. The cost of living for a family of four in the area is $59,000 a year. That number includes only the basics: food, housing, health care and child care.

"Forty to 60 percent of our working families have incomes that are lower than the cost of living in our community, which presents all sorts of challenges for them."

Fewer than one-third of children from economically disadvantaged families are reading proficiently in third grade. "Third grade reading proficiency is a routine predictor of both academic and career success. It is also a statistic that the U.S. government uses to predict future prison capacity."

Rates of child abuse and neglect have also risen by 30 percent over the last two years.

These socioeconomic factors are causing businesses to be short the skilled workforce they need. Further complicating the problem, over the next 20 years, the number of baby boomers leaving the workforce is significantly greater than the number of young people entering the workforce.

"With flat population growth predicted, Dodge County will experience a 10 percent decrease in our working age population," Crave said.

The other problem is readiness to enter the workforce.

"What percentage of Wisconsinites between the ages of 18 and 24 are not qualified to join the military, either because they don't meet the academic or fitness requirements or because they have an unacceptable criminal record," Crave asked.

Seventy-one percent of young Americans are not qualified to join the military, she answered.

"If 71 percent of our young folks are not qualified to join the military, how many of them are qualified to be employees or leaders in your companies?"

Child care in Dodge and Jefferson counties is at 98 percent capacity.

"How many workers are we losing because child care is either too expensive or is not at all available?"

How are children going to get the start they need to be successful future citizens, parents and employees? That's the question the initiative hopes to answer.

"We need every single one of our children to succeed so that our community and our businesses can thrive and prosper into the future," she said.

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation will provide the financial backing for the Every Child Thrives movement for five years. The partnership plans to initially serve the areas of the Dodgeland and Watertown school districts and has a vision of, "Every child thrives in health, learning and life," and a mission to "Engaging business, government, education, families and community partners to ensure that every child thrives."

The initiative has already garnered the attention of over 100 individuals and organizations in the area.

Navsaria, who has a degree in public health and is trained as a children's librarian, discussed the science of the brain and early childhood development and what happens when things don't go right for children early on in their life.

"Children are the future citizens. They are your future employees, your future employers, your future inventors. This is what their future holds ideally, so when we don't invest in the infrastructure of the early brain we are basically saying we don't think our society has a future," he said.

Brains are built over time but the first 1,000 days of life until a child is 3 years old are very important, Navsaria said.

"I don't want anyone to walk out of here thinking it's over and there is nothing you can do. Adolescents can change, young adults can change, even older adults can change. Is it a lot harder? Yes it is. There is not as much brain elasticity. It takes a lot more effort and a lot more work, but it is possible."

Where a child lives and who is around them play a big factor in how they develop. Experiences also play a factor in development.

"It is through relationships and connections with people not products that drive development. There is nothing a screen does for a child under 2 years of age, so don't put your kids in front of educational videos and apps. As one of my colleagues says, ‘There is no app to replace your lap.' They need to interact with people and that is what drives development."

Navsaria referenced a study where a mother plays and interacts with her baby and then for two minutes sits with the baby with a straight face, not responding to the baby's cues.

Navsaria says he doesn't believe there are parents anywhere who don't care about their children, or want what's best for their children.

"I think that's a universal. We think of this back-and-forth interaction as being natural or instinctual, but that's learned behavior. We learned it by watching other people around us doing it, so if you grew up in an environment where people aren't doing that how are you going to know to do it."

The doctor says in the last five years of his practice he has never found a parent who didn't know they should talk to and read to their child, but if it's not something they learned growing up it may start to feel awkward. "Are you saying the right things? What are you supposed to say? Maybe you aren't saying the right things. You didn't do so well in school, you struggled, you aren't going to tell your baby the right things, you are going to mess them up and they will turn out like you. Maybe they are better off in front of this learning DVD made by educators. You see how the parental self doubt can feed on itself?"

The brains of children who face adversity in their lives also change.

"There is no pill to fix this. That's why I'm here talking to you today. If we can catch it early on we can help these children," Navsaria said. "This is a problem not just for them or their family or community. It's a problem for all of us, which one of these kids under the right conditions would have thrived and figured out something that would help us all like a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's or how to get to Mars or world peace or something like that." Navsaria suggests making the solutions easy for parents, build parental capabilities, address the root cause and to use evidence guided solutions. He used the example of the organization Reach Out and Read, which gives away books and encourages parents to read to their children every day.

The organization gives parents the tool to build their capacity to engage with their children and helps to buffer toxic stress in their lives and improve their relationship with their children.

"We need to remember talent is equally distributed throughout our population but opportunity is not."

Navsaria showed the crowd a picture of his wife reading to their son many years ago and said it reminds him of the importance of those interactions.

"Children are made readers in the laps of their parents, and parents are their child's first and best teachers. We need to support parents in that role," he said.

Watertown High School alumnus Rob Grunewald, economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, discussed the high economic return of investing in early childhood opportunities.

Grunewald discussed a study from the 1960s that looked at investing in preschool education and whether that would reduce the need for special education, which is more expensive.

"They selected 123 children randomly, from low income families, to either receive the preschool or be in a control group for comparison," Grunewald said.

The students had a high quality experience at the preschool and the study followed the participants to the age of 40. The graduation rate of those who went to the preschool was higher and there was a reduction in the need for special education. Other notable differences in the two groups were homeownership rates were higher.

Grunewald says those who attended the preschool had higher paying jobs, contributed more taxes to society and had a reduction in incarceration.

The benefit to cost ratio is up to $16 returned for every $1 invested in sending the child to preschool, which in today's dollars cost $11,000.

Another study showed among the children's mothers there was stabilization of income and reduction in social welfare cost.

"When there is high quality child care system it allows parents to go to work and they are not worried about their child care arrangements during the day. There is less absenteeism and turnover which is a benefit to businesses. "Investing in our children is not free, but research shows that 10 or 15 years down the road it will pay off," he said.

Manufacturers and other skilled trades have been having a hard time finding quality workers for the last several years.

"If employers are struggling to find people today, it's going to get worse by 2020 and peak by 2025," said S. Mark Tyler, president OEM Fabricators, Inc. in Woodsville. "One of the problems we faced is back in the 1980s, we needed more four-year graduates, unfortunately the approach we took to getting people think about going to the universities, we demonized the trades. We basically said if you have a suit and an office and you work with your brain and not your back, you are a success, and if you don't then you're not." Tyler told the crowd it's important to implement career planning for high school students. He told the story of a student who was told to follow her passion, which was anthropology. She went to school, studied and graduated with a bachelor's degree, but she couldn't find a job. She ended up going to a trade school to become a welder and now is gainfully employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, plumbers make over $68,000 a year whereas a professor with a PhD makes $65,000.

"I'm not beating up on fouryear degrees, we need more than what we have, but we need to be honest about where the opportunities are."

Tyler said honest discussions need to take place.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than half of careers in the future are going to need more than high school but less than a bachelor's degree, but the need for bachelor's degrees is also increasing. What that tells us is everybody will need education beyond high school. Right now the demand is in STEM careers.

About 36 percent of students are graduating from some kind of college but the need is more like 95 percent, Tyler said. He also said in Wisconsin incarceration rates are so high they are costing taxpayers almost $1 billion a year. "That billion dollars would probably do what we need to do in early childhood. I don't know that we will ever be able to get away entirely from incarceration, but that is a good pot of money we could access."

Although companies and company leaders know the answer to the workforce problem is in early childhood, Tyler says the message has not reached lawmakers.

"We have to get the message to lawmakers this is something we need if for nothing else than an least an economic perspective to support our workforce."

Tyler said even if a person is not involved in this movement there is something everyone can do.

"When you engage with a child the best way to teach is talk, read, play and sing," he said.

Businesses need employees who are job-ready, team-capable and well-prepared. Every Child Thrives, a new collaborative effort in Dodge and Jefferson counties, invites business and community leaders to learn the impact investments in children have on the strength of a workforce and vitality of a community.

The program Healthy Child, Thriving Communities - Tomorrow's Workforce Develops Today, features three nationally recognized speakers, and will be held on Monday, Dec. 11, 8-10 a.m., at Turner Hall in Watertown. To register for this free breakfast program, visit watertownhealthfoundation. com. Registration is required by Monday, Dec. 4.

"In our region the need for quality employees is greater than ever," said Watertown Mayor John David. "I've recently learned we have more than 400 jobs available in Watertown alone. We can no longer afford to take a reactive stance when it comes to workforce. We must be proactive in ensuring each and every child develops the skills needed for our community to prosper into the future."

Ready Nation, a national collaboration of business executives working to build a skilled workforce by preparing children to succeed, reports employers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit workers with employability skills such as listening carefully, managing emotions and working well on a team. These skills are developed in childhood and are difficult to change as an adult.

Nate Salas, president, Partnership Bank, sees this issue first-hand. Too many local businesses are scaling back on expansion plans because they're unable to find workers who are reliable and have the problem-solving skills needed in today's business climate," he said.

The program will describe the impact that early experiences have on lifelong health, occupational success and community vitality. Featured speakers are:

  • Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, "Early Experiences Elevate Everything." An associate professor of pediatrics, Navsaria practices primary care pediatrics and is the founding medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. He regularly writes op-eds on healthrelated topics, does radio and television interviews, and speaks locally, regionally and nationally on early brain and child development, early literacy, and advocacy to a broad variety of audiences.

  • Rob Grunewald, economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, "The Economic Impact of Investing Early." A graduate of Watertown High School, Grunewald coauthored "Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return" and has written several subsequent articles on the economic and social impact of early learning. He frequently speaks to community and business leaders, policymakers and media throughout the United States and has served on boards and advisory committees for organizations involved with early childhood development, including Think Small: Leaders in Early Learning, First Children's Finance, and the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency.

  • S. Mark Tyler, president, OEM Fabricators, Inc., "Skills Gap and Next Gen Workforce." Tyler is founder and president of OEM Fabricators, Inc., a growing contract manufacturer in western Wisconsin. He is a regent with the University of Wisconsin and serves on the Wisconsin Technical College System and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Boards. He chairs the Governor's Council on Workforce Investment and the Business Committee of Success by Six of the St. Croix Valley. He also serves on the Governor's Early Childhood Advisory Council.

Carol Quest, Watertown Department of Public Health director and Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation chairwoman, said the goal for the event is to engage business and community leaders to help ensure our community effectively supports children and their families. "Many factors affect the development of solid character skills and a strong workforce, and early childhood investments rank among the most important," she explained.

Quest stressed the importance of high-quality, early learning opportunities for all children, adding that in our region only 34 percent of children from economically disadvantaged families are reading proficiently by third grad. "This is significant when it comes to economic development because we know these children are much more likely to drop out of school, leaving them unprepared to enter the workforce," she said.

"When children don't get off to the right start in life, it's hard for them to catch up and become the productive adults we need. Society and businesses suffer when we let kids slip through the cracks. Working together as a community, we have the means to help our children become healthy, contributing adults," she added.

Launched earlier this summer, Every Child Thrives works to ensure that every child has the early experiences necessary to thrive in learning, in work and in life. It is supported by 30 individual agencies across Dodge and Jefferson counties.

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation provides the backbone support for Every Child Thrives. The GWCHF was formed out of the 2015 joint venture between Watertown Regional Medical Center and LifePoint Health and is an independent nonprofit that invests invests in creating health in the community. The mission of the foundation is to inspire collaboration, mobilize resources and encourage innovation that measurably contributes to the wellbeing of our communities. To learn more about the GWCHF and Every Child Thrives, visit watertownhealthfoundation. com.