Sparking Change Storytellers Tell Congress What Women and Families Actually Need

The head of a home child care program who cut her own pay to ensure her employees didn’t miss a paycheck. A mom who wants to work full time, but only has child care part time. These are the voices that our politicians need to listen to—and legislate for. 

Centering the voices of people with lived experience is a critical but often overlooked piece of the policymaking process—which is why, last May, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) launched our Sparking Change storytelling and leadership initiative.  

Our storytellers are women or nonbinary people of color who have experienced firsthand the intersecting issues of income insecurity and child caregiving. Last month, these storytellers traveled hundreds of miles to join NWLC’s 36th Annual State Child Care Advocates Meeting in Washington, D.C., speaking on a panel and meeting with their members of Congress to advocate for affordable child care with a wide range of options to meet families’ diverse needs. 

You can read more about their experiences, in their own words, below:  

Merline A Gallegos, New Mexico: 

I have a deep gratitude for being able to visit Washington, D.C. with the Sparking Change program. The NWLC team was so nice and helpful, and I was so proud to be on a panel with my Sparking Change sisters to continue fighting for early education. We all form an important and fundamental pillar that will help achieve great changes and improvements for our nation. Parents, educators, and advocates all have a role in providing quality early learning education.  

Visiting the White House was also such a valuable experience—especially seeing how willing our representatives were to listen to us, without putting up any language barriers. I speak Spanish and I was spoken to in my language, which made me feel included and valued. When I saw these representatives supporting our advocacy, it made me realize that we have elected people who are truly willing to support our movement. This visit gave me the comfort, security, and empowerment I needed to be able to continue advocating in my community. I know that advocacy in each state will be a little different, so I need to figure out how I can best contribute and collaborate with my sisters as we continue the fight for early education together.  

Visiting the National Museum of African American History & Culture was another great experience. It was very painful to see that part of history and at the same time it gives me more strength to be able to continue advocating for the changes our country needs. In short, this was the best trip I have ever had, and it was a truly beautiful experience to be surrounded by my sisters in this fight.  

Raynique Syas, South Carolina: 

Going to Washington, D.C. was an incredibly thoughtful and empowering experience.  

The NWLC staff went above and beyond to ensure all our needs were taken care of—physically, mentally, and financially. We received the discussion questions for the panel ahead of time so we could prepare without being stressed. The agenda allowed us to be ready for each session. We were informed about the weather, activities outside the conference, and more so we could fully engage.

It was energizing to meet and interact with my fellow attendees. I finally got to connect face-to-face with sisters from New Mexico I had spoken to online. The welcoming spirit of everyone was amazing. 

Another highlight was our lobbying training and getting to meet with legislative offices. It felt empowering to use my voice to encourage accountability and policies that serve our communities’ best interests. And to do so with my baby in my arms! I’m motivated to be more active in my advocacy and voting.

The White House tour was also an interesting, eye-opening experience that reminded me of the importance of values in leadership. The best part was learning the history of leaders of color who paved the way. I’m humbled to follow in their footsteps and to continue their work to make our communities more just and equitable.

I’m so grateful I could lend my voice to child care advocacy through this cohort. Being part of this experience is a lifelong memory. This trip inspired and equipped me to continue this vital work. 

Chantelle C. Mitchell, South Carolina: 

Washington here we come!!! 

What a way to bring in the New Year! So many thoughts were running through my head about this trip. So many people to network with—but even more exciting, the chance to explore Washington, D.C.’s iconic landmarks and museums (which I’d only ever seen on TV).  

There were many other monumental moments during this trip that I loved. The first moment was when we, the storytellers, were sitting together at a table in front of a room of people who wanted to hear what we had to say. Yes, in that moment our trials and tribulations were not just an experience or event in our lives—but an opportunity to bring awareness to the importance of child care.  

The second moment was going to the Capitol to speak to our state representatives and tell them our stories. It was us!!! Yes, the SisSTARS (in the voice of my fellow storyteller sister Christine Matthews) of the Sparking Change cohort were standing in the presence of people who can change laws. Mothers, child care providers, and advocates—together, we are determined to make a change, and NWLC gave us the chance to have our voices heard.  

This will forever be one of the best opportunities that I’ve ever had. I’m so grateful for Jess, Jourdan, Jennifer, Toni, and everyone at NWLC that view us as heroes and treated us as such!! 

Patricia Bustillos R, New Mexico: 

Visiting Washington, D.C. was so special for me—from boarding the plane from Albuquerque, then flying to Dallas, then finally arriving in our nation’s capital. Once we got to the hotel, we started our training with NWLC. I really enjoyed listening to my colleagues share their experiences in child care and the needs that exist. Watching them and hearing how they spoke on the panel fills me with pride. 

Talking to our state representatives (in Spanish!) was also great. They were very willing to hear from us and to give us hope that we can make changes for a better life—and that our grandchildren can have a better future.  

Visiting the National Museum of African American History & Culture was shocking. I learned a lot about the history of slavery, and I was happy to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., his advocacy, and his fight for his people. It was also great to go on a bus tour of the city, learning about the buildings, the history, and seeing things that I had only ever seen in magazines. We also had the opportunity to see the NWLC office,. which was spectacular. There, we talked about taxes and financing, and I learned a lot. 

I am grateful to everyone at NWLC. They all worked hard to make us feel so special. I hold all of my teammates and the NWLC organization very close to my heart.