As kids head back to class and we approach the end of the year, we are excited to bestow October’s Partner of the Month on Teresa Gonczy O’Rourke. An early childhood specialist, Teresa has not only brought her expertise to SVP’s Community Partners (aka “Investees”), she and her husband are expecting their own little early childhood project due this winter!
Teresa has been an SVP Partner since June of 2017, and expeditiously immersed herself in Early Childhood Education initiatives through SVP’s internal Access to Preschool Task Force. With SVP evolving our broad “Ready for Kindergarten” goal to a more focused one of increasing access to quality early learning experiences for our priority populations (children of color, children experiencing poverty, and/or children whose first language isn’t English), the Task Force was convened to clarify terminology, investment criteria, and SVP’s role in influencing Multnomah County’s Preschool goal.
Teresa also brought crucial expertise to one of SVP’s Community Partners, the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), as they are planning to open a multicultural preschool. In addition, Teresa participated in SVP’s early conversations with our newest Community Partner, the Center for African Immigrants and Refugee Organization (CAIRO), which operates a culturally-specific preschool serving Somali children.
Teresa is passionate about building innovative communities and educational systems where children and adults feel capable of changing their lives and the world. She works to understand how we develop as human beings, and how our early experiences affect us. Her graduate work at Harvard focused on early childhood policy—specifically on large-scale quality improvement of adult-child interactions. She is an educator who has both taught and designed curriculum, from sign language for babies to high school math and science. She’s been instrumental in driving our planning and evaluation efforts around the Access to Preschool initiative, and has put her breadth of experience to work for us in a tremendous way.
Why did you join SVP?
- I love giving back to my community, and had heard of SVP in other locations. When I found out that SVP Portland is focused on early childhood, which is also my focus area, it seemed like a perfect fit. I was also excited to meet other people with similar interests, as my husband and I had just moved to Portland.
Why did you decide to help with the SVP Access to Preschool Task Force?
- Building up an early childhood system takes a lot of different moving parts, and I could see how SVP Portland was going to be a key player in boosting that system locally. Having done my graduate studies looking at early childhood education policy, I was very interested to put my knowledge to work in the systems-level planning at SVP and in Multnomah County.
What about the SVP Access to Preschool Task Force spoke to you?
- I also enjoyed working with the other Partners on the Task Force to better define SVP’s approach to early childhood. Early learning is a very complex field with no easy answers, so it was wonderful to have other great minds in the room to bounce ideas around and look at the issues from multiple angles.
What has been most rewarding thus far?
- It’s been very rewarding to see the different initiatives I’ve worked on move forward in deliberate, thoughtful ways. I’ve worked in and with non-profits before, and I know how chaotic they can be internally, especially in small nonprofits where everyone is wearing too many hats. Seeing how SVP’s contributions can help nonprofits and early childhood initiatives take the time to deliberately plan and strategize has been very rewarding.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
- I love to read and learn about everything from math and science to psychology and child development. I’m also a dancer, trained in ballet and jazz. And I like to spend time with our mini husky puppy, Cooper, who loves going for walks and nature hikes as well as learning tricks and surprising us with her understanding of the English language.
How has SVP helped you make a bigger difference in the community?
- Through SVP, I’ve become aware of more early learning organizations locally, and been able to understand how different organizations and initiatives are helping in different ways. I’ve been able to give back to some of these organizations, and I look forward to giving to more.