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80x3: Resilient from the Start

A baby sits on the floor with a book in front of them and smiles

John Wilgers


In our Greater Twin Cities community, nearly 80,000 children prenatal to age five live in households that cannot afford their basic needs, and the chronic stress of poverty can lead to adverse childhood experiences and possible trauma that can have lasting effects on brain development. Children of color and American Indians are disproportionally affected.

Research shows that 80 percent of brain growth happens by age three, and healthy brain growth is highly dependent on having enriching and nurturing experiences. Trauma-sensitive care and parent engagement hold tremendous promise for helping children thrive by creating environments that nurture and protect them so they can develop and learn.

Thanks to the generosity and creative leadership of Liz and Tim Welsh, Greater Twin Cities United Way co-created the “80x3” initiative with Catholic Charities and Northside Achievement Zone. 80x3 aims to break the cycle of poverty and ensure all of our community’s littlest learners have a thriving start in their first 1,000 days.

Trauma-Sensitive Care and Parent Engagement

Building on the learnings from Greater Twin Cities United Way’s groundbreaking Screen @ Three initiative, 80x3’s goal is to deliver trauma-sensitive early childhood care and parent engagement for children in need prenatal to age three.

We’re leaning on research and experts in the field of trauma-sensitive care, focusing our efforts on neighborhoods in greatest need, and doubling down on parent engagement to scale these efforts. This initiative will span several childcare nonprofit partners throughout our community, ensuring our families and children are prepared to learn and thrive.

We've collectively identified three strategies where we will have the most impact:

  1. Improve professional development for and staff retention among caregivers working at childcare centers: This will provide the support caregivers deserve and need as well as consistency, which aids healthy brain development in our youngest children.
  2. Provide training and coaching in trauma-sensitive practices for caregivers.
  3. Provide parents with education and coaching to support enhanced parent engagement: This will help provide families with the skills and knowledge to teach and protect their children.

80x3 will identify and replicate neighborhood-scale practices that improve childhood success in urban, suburban and rural communities in the Greater Twin Cities, starting in North Minneapolis. The results of these pilot projects will help us make the case for additional state funding for the program, leveraging investments and maximizing impact.

Join us! We are actively seeking funds to bring this vision to life. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me or leave a comment below.

Share Your Ideas

Have an idea for how we can break the cycle of child poverty and provide more children and families the opportunity to learn and develop today so they can thrive tomorrow? Please share them in the comments below.

About the Author

John Wilgers is the President and CEO of Greater Twin Cities United Way. A passionate community advocate for more than 10 years, John has served in several United Way roles, including board chair, member of the executive committee of the board, volunteer, fundraiser and donor. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from the University of Kansas.

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