Why Trust President Dr. Laura Gerald Cares Deeply About Investing in Children

We sat down with Trust president Dr. Laura Gerald to discover what excites her about Great Expectations and her new position. Here’s what she said…

What drew you to the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust?

As both an early childhood health care provider and health improvement practitioner, I have known of the good work of the Trust over the course of my career. I was particularly drawn to one of the Trust’s newer programs–Great Expectations, focused on early childhood education. I’ve guided my career with the belief that investments in the early childhood period really pay off for communities, over time.

How will you leverage your perspective as a doctor and public health policy analyst to produce more equitable early childhood education and health outcomes in Forsyth County?

I have always advocated for policies that would give every child an equal start, regardless of the social and economic circumstances that surround them. I see children as particularly vulnerable. And “vulnerable” is not a term I use lightly because I think everyone has strength and resilience. But children don’t vote and are not able to address and overcome the challenges that they are facing. Early childhood is a time when children need our support the most.

Why do you think it’s critical to incorporate community voices, particularly parents?

Unless we are hearing what is needed from actual parents and families here in Forsyth County, we are missing critical voices. In going back to my experience as a pediatrician, I would not endeavor to treat a child without first talking to their parents.  We may be experts in early childhood, but every parent out there is an expert in their own child. I’m pleased we are supporting the Forsyth Family Voices project, where agencies engage with parents in dialogue about their ideas and what they need.

You’ve talked about addressing systems change and the social determinants of health. What actions should the Trust take to address this?

When you start talking about broad social issues like jobs, housing, and health care, you need to acknowledge that these are not issues where success can be accomplished by any one organization or sector. We need people working together and solutions that take longer than the typical one-to-three year grant cycle. With Great Expectations, we are here for a long-term investment.

Our hope is that our grantmaking strategy creates momentum and fosters more collaboration across different groups: service providers, funders, and the business, education, and faith communities. We want early childhood to become a broad community priority and take on importance across the individual folks working on these issues.

Why does investing in more effective early childhood health and education benefit not only the children in need but the community at large? 

Studies have demonstrated that early childhood investments pay off long-term. Every dollar spent on early childhood initiatives provides eight dollars in benefits back to the community.  That can be broken down into benefits for education, health care, and the workforce—through economic development opportunities.

When children are supported through infancy and early childhood, they enter the education system ready to learn. If we can start children off on the right foot in terms of prevention and healthy life styles, we will have fewer chronic diseases in childhood and later in life that we will have to support as a community.

If we have those things in place, what you end up with is a workforce that is educated and healthy. I don’t know of a business community that does not want to have that kind of workforce available to it.

What is your biggest hope for Forsyth County?

I want this to be the best county to be in to raise a child in North Carolina. We can even go beyond that if we want to!

Dr. Laura Gerald is a pediatrician born and raised in rural North Carolina. Before joining the Trust in July, she served as market medical director for Evolent Health in Raleigh, as the North Carolina state health director, and as executive director of the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund. 

This interview was edited.