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VOICES for Alabama’s Children announces growth, new staff

VOICES’ mission is to speak for the well-being of Alabama’s children through research, public awareness, and advocacy.

VOICES for Alabama's Children
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VOICES for Alabama’s Children proudly announces new staff, signifying the organization’s growth and its anticipation for more opportunities to help shape the landscape for future generations of Alabamians.

For more than thirty years, VOICES’ mission has been to speak for the well-being of Alabama’s children through research, public awareness, and advocacy. It partners with community leaders and others encouraging lawmakers to pursue policies beneficial to Alabama’s children. The group’s annual Alabama Kids Count Data Book is the state’s most comprehensive source of child and family well-being data and the 30th edition is slated to release early next year.

“VOICES was established to call attention to the needs of Alabama children,” said Rhonda Mann, who was named executive director last fall. “We have learned so much about the role of research and advocacy in identifying the needs so that every Alabama child can thrive and succeed.”

After 20 years with VOICES, Mann retired in November 2020. Coming out of retirement, she returned last year to serve as the group’s executive director. Mann has worked on various policy and awareness campaigns from helping individuals understand the critical nature of the first five years of life in child development to child passenger safety, teen driver safety, child poverty, child hunger, and child care, and helping citizens understand tax and budget issues and their impact on child well-being. She provided leadership as VOICES helped facilitate grassroots work around the 2020 Census, working with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) and U.S. Census specialists.

Mann said, “Our new staff members’ experience and knowledge serve only to enhance our capacity for increased data, research, and tackling more child and family issues. We are planning to dig deeper in data, provide an even richer picture of the landscape in Alabama concerning children and families, and work more intentionally with stakeholders on policies and other solutions to continue improving children’s lives in this state.”

VOICES’ new staff members include Dawn Owens, Apreill Hartsfield and Peyton Northington.

Owens spearheads community engagement and policy work focusing on children from birth to eight. She is an early childhood educator with a passion for helping programs maintain optimal quality and implement developmentally appropriate instruction for young children. Her experience in child care programs includes a variety of settings from public schools, Head Start, military, faith-based, and private institutions. Owens provided leadership in early care and education-related issues through her past work with the Montgomery (Alabama) Education Foundation, the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, and the Alabama Department of Human Resources, Child Care Services Division. Having spent the last two years working for The Council for Professional Recognition, engaging with government decision-makers on a local, state, and national level, Owens is uniquely poised to support policy that improves the outcomes for Alabama’s youngest citizens. Owens earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Alabama State University.

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“I knew at an early age that I wanted to be an Early Childhood Educator. I come from a family of educators and my formative years were spent with my grandmothers, who were both nurturing caregivers to many young children. They laid a foundation for me that ignited my passion for this work,” Owens said. “I feel so blessed to be here at VOICES at this time in my career.”

Hartsfield rejoins the group, serving as a data and policy analyst. She oversees the Kids Count project and works with other staff to shape VOICES’ policy and legislative work. Hartsfield has more than two decades of experience in data and public policy research, message development grassroots campaigns, and media advocacy. She has been privileged to advocate for several marginalized, underrepresented and vulnerable populations through previous work with VOICES and the Southern Poverty Law Center. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and public communication and a Juris Doctor.

“VOICES’ work holds a special place in my heart because it connects the data with the people at the center of the measures and identifies needs and solutions to improve lives and outcomes,” Hartsfield said. “VOICES does a great job balancing the data and advocacy through pursuing data-driven policy initiatives.”

Peyton Northington first joined VOICES last year through her internship program as a Master of Social Work student at the University of Alabama. She was hired full-time this summer to assist with community outreach and engagement while she completes her MSW program. Northington takes VOICES out into the communities, at meetings, conference exhibits, and other opportunities, both in person and online, to share materials and messages throughout the state. 

“During my time as an MSW intern with VOICES, I received an abundance of encouragement, support and guidance as I learned all about the world of advocacy, Northington said. “VOICES regularly hosts interns, giving them the opportunity to understand all that is involved in being an advocate. I’m thankful for its investment in me and for the opportunity to connect and work with other advocates and community leaders across the state.”

“We are ecstatic about the organization’s growth and the opportunities that growth ushers through our doors,” said Sue McInnish, president of VOICES’ Board of Directors. “Now more than ever, VOICES’ valuable data and esteemed influence among law and policymakers are critical to illuminating and improving all facets of life for Alabama’s future generations.”

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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