Early Learning Coalition meets challenges as it marches toward 20th year

Tallahassee Democrat | Special to The Chronicle | April 6, 2021

Before the country was well versed in masks, social distancing, and “unprecedented times,” March 2020 looked promising – especially so for Liz Murphy, the new CEO of Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend (ELC).

After 14 years with the ELC – a career that began at the front desk and only trajected upward – Murphy was ready to take the helm of an organization she loved and knew well. What she did not anticipate, however, was a pandemic that would define her first year in the position.

“The biggest challenge we have faced has been maintaining the level of customer service that our families and providers have come to expect from us,” explains Murphy.

“Our customers’ needs are even greater during this time, and it’s important we are able to meet them.”

The ELC is a private nonprofit organization that provides services to families, children, and child care providers in the seven counties that comprise northern Florida’s Big Bend region: Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, and Wakulla.

Offices regularly met with local families to discuss child care assistance, developmental screening, and provided free children’s books through their Word Garden libraries. By March, Murphy made the difficult decision to temporarily close all offices from the public and have staff work remotely.

However, child care centers — a large base of ELC’s clients — continued to remain open and families continued to need child care services. It was imperative to Murphy that the organization remained accessible and attentive.

Customers are still able to access services virtually — via phone, video conferencing, email, or the family and provider portals hosted on their website. Internally, communications ramped up to ensure clarity and cohesiveness.

“Digital platforms became a necessity for our internal communications – daily teleconference meetings are prioritized based on the organization needs,” says Murphy. “We are still able to recognize our staff and celebrate milestones, albeit from our homes.”

Despite the challenges, ELC certainly has had a lot to celebrate. Wakulla’s Chamber of

Commerce selected the ELC as the 2020 Nonprofit of the Year for their Business Excellence Award based on its impact in the community.

Annual events like the Run ELC 5k went virtual and still saw a lot of success. Most importantly, the organization is entering its 20th year in service – and nothing is going to hold Murphy and her staff back from recognizing this milestone.

Photo: Lizbeth Murphy, who was named the new CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Region in 2020, is shown here organizing supplies for families and children during an emergency response distribution at the ELC office in Quincy. Oct. 18, 2018. The distribution event was organized as a partnership between the ELC and Save the Children organization. Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat

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