Tell us about yourself.
My name is Rich Schultz and I serve as Executive Director of Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond. We are a broad-based early childhood coalition with the vision that all children from birth through five in the Richmond Region will be healthy, well-cared for, and ready to succeed in school, work and life.
I began my career as a journalist, working for a weekly newspaper, The Shenandoah Valley-Herald, in Woodstock, Virginia in 1985 where I worked as a reporter and eventually became Editor and General Manager. I moved to the nonprofit sector in 1991 when I took a role as Community Director for the March of Dimes and relocated to Charlottesville. There I discovered my passion for nonprofit work when I took a job at the American Heart Association as an Area Director. My next career changing role came in 1995 when I joined the team at Meals on Wheels where I served as President and then became Senior Vice President of FeedMore in 2008.
In 2011, I became Chief Development Officer at United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg. In 2012, I became the Executive Director of SupportOne where I served until I came to Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond in 2015.
What is the focus of your work?
Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond is a nonprofit organization that works to unite parents, service providers, funders and other key community partners in education to ensure that every child in our region has the best chance for success.
We are a regional partnership of public and private organizations, businesses and individuals serving the cities of Richmond and Colonial Heights, as well as Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, and Powhatan counties.
The mission of Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond is to lead the transformation of the early childhood system by building regional partnerships and capacity for change.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
In my nonprofit career, I came to truly understand the importance of servant leadership and embraced a culture of values-based leadership in many of the organizations I’ve served. The most rewarding part of my current work with Smart Beginnings is the opportunity to bring together a wide and diverse network of partners to solve problems at a systems level. By working together – and across different sectors – we realize the strength in our diversity and the great assets we can leverage to create real and lasting change in our region.
What’s a major challenge you have faced and how did you handle it?
As President of Meals on Wheels, we faced the tragic loss of our previous President to cancer. As I stepped into the role after her death, it was a pivotal moment in our history. The organization was not only working through that very difficult and emotional loss, but it was also embarking on a campaign to construct a Community Kitchen in partnership with the Central Virginia Foodbank.
We harnessed all the exceptional talent of our leadership teams, staff and volunteers to raise $7.8 million in the capital campaign to build the kitchen, which we dedicated to our former Meals on Wheels President. The Community Kitchen project ultimately led to the creation of FeedMore, the umbrella organization for Meals and Wheels and the Central Virginia Foodbank.
What’s one misconception the public has about your organization?
People can more easily grasp the work of our partners providing very important direct services for our community – such as child care programs, preschools or early intervention programs such as home visitation or parenting support.
Our work requires us to work at a different level – connecting these many different types of services and providers – to create change and innovation that creates a more connected and efficient system. That means bringing together policy makers, school division, health departments, social services and for profit and nonprofit providers who are all working within this birth to five system.
Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond provides the “glue” that brings all these systems together.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
Last year, members of the Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond partnership came together to update the Regional Plan for School Readiness, recommitting to the 2010 vision that “all children from birth through five in the Richmond region will be healthy, well-cared for, and ready to succeed in school, work and in life.” Participants took stock of what had transpired since 2010 and charted a path forward to address the disparities and challenges faced by families with young children.
The resulting Regional Plan for School Readiness 2017-2020 addresses the region as a whole and builds on the premise that a strong start for children of all incomes is good for the economic vitality and well-being of the region. The plan emphasizes children and families most in need. Its goals focus on areas where there are disparities between children of color and non-minority children, where school districts have not made progress, and where economic insecurity has increased the emotional, social, and physical barriers to accessing care.
Smart Beginnings will coordinate roles of its partners in execution of the plan, as well as initiatives the backbone organization will lead as the plan moves to implementation.
Here are just some of the key initiatives Smart Beginnings will lead in the new Regional Plan:
- Greater Public Awareness: Goal 1 of the plan calls for increased awareness of early childhood among key stakeholders in the region. Building on the successes of its award-winning Regional Kindergarten Registration Public Awareness Campaign, Smart Beginnings will lead these efforts for the region.
- Business Innovation: Goal 4 of the plan focuses on strengthening both the workforce and organizations in the early childhood sector. Strong organizations need sustainable business models to ensure high quality and affordable early childhood services. Smart Beginnings is working closely with other partners in the community to establish the state’s first Shared Services Alliance among early care providers. This innovative model establishes a “Hub” organization to provide critical business functions for child care providers, allowing them to focus on delivering high-quality programs. It launched on July 10, 2017 – you can read more about the Richmond Area Service Alliance here.
Smart Beginnings is also working closely with local school divisions and private providers to pilot a mixed delivery preschool model, which brings together schools and the private sector to provide quality preschool in private settings. This model overcomes some of the most significant barriers to expanding public preschool – space limitations and lack of local matching funds – that inhibit expansion of public preschool to low-income families.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
A clear strength of the Smart Beginnings partnership is its power as an organizing force. Its members share and advance a common purpose. More than 110 organizations were involved in the creation of the Regional Plan. Some key partners have already committed to taking on a leadership role in the execution of goal areas, and include: ChildSavers, Greater Richmond SCAN, Partnership for Families and Peter Paul Development Center/Richmond Promise Neighborhoods.
In addition, we have partnerships with local schools, museums, libraries, health departments, and the extensive private provider network serving families and children in our region. Together we are working to ensure that all our region’s children arrive to school ready to learn and ready for life.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
The new Regional Plan for School Readiness 2017-2020 aligns closely with The Community Foundation’s Educational Success Logic Model. The Community Foundation’s vision that children begin school ready to learn and are supported academically and socially throughout their educational experience captures the essence of the new Regional Plan for School Readiness 2017-2020.
Anything else you would like to share?
Since the first Regional Plan was launched in 2010, Smart Beginnings has increased public awareness, leveraged new resources for quality services, and built strong cross-sector representation and relationships. Smart Beginnings partners have developed a shared agenda focusing on service delivery and system change, cultivated trust and better communication within the provider network, and served as a bridge between schools, localities, and programs. The Regional Plan for School Readiness 2017–2020 takes into account the region’s past successes and focuses attention where action is most needed.
We’d like to invite members of the community who are interested in partnering with Smart Beginnings and its early childhood coalition to contact us to learn more. Visit www.smartbeginningsrva.org to learn more about how you can get involved!