Unlocking Equity: Bridging the Gap for Families and Communities

April 26, 2024

Antoniya Marinova, Associate Vice President of Programs at The Boston Foundation, initiated Friday’s Coffee and Conversation webinar by introducing the Foundation’s Nurturing Strong Beginnings pathway, advocating for stronger and more equitable systems of early education and health care for young children and their families. 

“In this work, nurturing healthy children, healthy families, healthy communities, and healthy environments are all an essential part of the equation, and it will take multiple coordinated approaches to get us there: programming and direct services, community partnerships, legislative efforts, broader coalition building, and more,” Marinova said. 

Kristin McSwain, Senior Advisor to Mayor Wu and Director of the Office of Early Childhood for the City of Boston, then took the virtual stage to share the recent initiative, Great Starts. McSwain explained how the platform bridges the gap between families and childcare needs, making programs more accessible for families to find and apply for. When creating the platform, the main goals were to increase families’ access to quality information to inform their choices about education and care, and to create a simpler, more transparent, and equitable process. These goals resonated with this conversation's purpose, aiming to establish equitable processes for families. 

Danubia Camargos Silva, Nurturing Strong Beginnings Senior Program Officer at The Boston Foundation, opened the panel with the overarching goal for this discussion. “Often in our ecosystem, we fail to create seamless and humane connections between these different but all-important areas of policy, family-centered coordination of services, collective impact approaches, cross-sector partnerships, and much more. For us to make real progress, we have to learn and explore a strategic and intentional connection between them and the final collective outcome, which must be centered in equity.”  

The conversation featured four speakers whose work impacts children and families in the Commonwealth, each with different yet complementary approaches to their work, ranging from inequities in maternal health, to housing, education and support for caregivers.  

Nashira Baril, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Birth Center, identified the need for a birth center in Roxbury after listening to the needs of midwives in the community. Baril sought to address an enormous equity issue in the maternal health sphere: the maternal mortality rate for Black women is over four times higher than the rate for White women.  




Antoniya Marinova, Associate Vice President of Programs, The Boston Foundation 

Opening Remarks
Kristin McSwain, Senior Advisor to the Mayor & Director of the Office of Early Childhood, City of Boston  

Panel Discussion
Unlocking Equity: Bridging the Gap for Families and Communities
Danubia Camargos Silva, NSB Senior Program Officer, The Boston Foundation (Moderator) 
Nashira Baril, Executive Director, Neighborhood Birth Center 
Sal N. DiDomenico, State Senator, Middlesex and Suffolk Counties 
Ana Estrella, Alumni and Financial Coaching Manager, Compass Working Capital 
Amy Izen, Program Manager, Early Childhood Initiative, Healthy Chelsea


Closing Remarks
Danubia Camargos Silva, NSB Program Officer, The Boston Foundation


Baril said her efforts to open a new birth center in Roxbury has surfaced numerous obstacles facing any potential operator. Insurance reimbursement has proven to be a major battle – namely that providers receive lower reimbursement through insurance when choosing a birth center as opposed to a hospital setting. This inequity has made it all but impossible for birth centers to create sustainable business models – and as a result, just one birth center operates in the state currently, in Northampton. As she works to open Neighborhood Birth Center, Baril has needed to turn to philanthropy to fill these funding gaps and sustain the center. 

Baril sees a need for major structural change to correct the issue and has made advocating for change a major piece of her work. “We can’t achieve equity until we get past a really uncomfortable shift in power. The strategies to advance equity continue to put the responsibility on the individual. There needs to be a significant shift in power, and we need to tackle racialized capitalism in a way that as a society we have been unable and unwilling to do,” Baril said. 

State Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico, who represents Cambridge, Charlestown, Chelsea, and Everett, underscored the pay and benefits issues in the early childhood workforce. He spoke about seeing workers in this field needing public assistance while they are educating, as the income they receive is not sufficient. “A lot of people who come in for a couple of years and move on to something else because they can't afford to stay in the field. So, we have lost a lot of consistency, lost a lot of knowledge, and a lot of passion from educators who want to stay in this field, but they can’t afford to support their own families by doing that,” Sen. DiDomenico said.  

He also recognized the importance of centering equity in other school programs. Using universal school meals as an example, Sen. DiDomenico noted that while the intention of providing free and reduced-price lunches to students who needed them was good, it ended up not being an equitable process due to the stigma felt by children using vouchers – which meant those in need often avoided the program. To remedy this, they ended up implementing free breakfast and lunch for all children, which supported those in need without the stigma.  

“When we talk about equity, it's not just the end result of getting equity,” said Sen. DiDomenico, “It’s the process of getting there.” 

Ana Estrella, Alumni & Financial Coaching Manager at Compass Working Capital, said she understands that stigma well. She became a single mother at the age of 20 while still enrolled in community college, and the unexpected shift in priorities left her homeless. Estrella secured public housing assistance and went on to earn her bachelor's degree while living there. As she pursued homeownership through a first-time buyer program, she learned about Compass Working Capital who introduced her to the BHA's public housing Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Inspired by a workshop led by a Compass graduate who shared her success story of buying a home as a single mother, Estrella felt empowered to achieve the same. Joining the FSS program, her coach provided her with invaluable guidance on navigating her student loan repayment plan and removing this hurdle to homeownership, ultimately allowing her to secure pre-approval for a mortgage. 

Estrella was overcome with emotion addressing the audience as she reflected on the stark difference in her life now versus her life at 20 years old. Now, as an owner of a multifamily home and a financial coaching manager, she gets to help others by housing them and giving them the same opportunity she was given years ago. 

“That really drives the way that I do my work and how I support my clients, because everyone on the other side wants the same thing, and not everyone’s story is the same,” Estrella reflected. “When I have a client come in, I think to myself, ‘I was them. So how do I make them feel better? How do I motivate them? How do I set the space for them to feel non-judged, to feel supported, to feel guided, and to walk out of this meeting feeling like they have a plan and they’re working towards something?’” 

The panel agreed that to overcome these obstacles and bridge the equity gap for children and families, there needs to be more cohesion between policy and programs.  

Amy Izen, Program Manager for the Early Childhood Initiative at Healthy Chelsea, noted the gaps in support for caregivers, and that this issue stemmed from a lack of communication between sectors. “I also started seeing patterns across families, similar needs and similar barriers, that really stemmed from different sectors not necessarily communicating, lack of information, the way the community may or may not have a resource,” Izen said.  

Izen also expressed the need for partnerships across sectors when it comes to advancing equity. “Sometimes you do have to fund the system, you have to fund the infrastructure, so that people have time to engineer the solutions, so that the folks who see what the challenges are, and the way things are not working together, can work together,” Izen said.