Just ten minutes with Dorothy Ferguson, and you immediately know that this bright, funny woman is a force to be reckoned with. As fierce as she is sharp, Dorothy has been a champion for children in Collier County for nearly 30 years. So it came as no surprise that she was recently honored with the “Distinguished Volunteer” award for her service to Collier Child Care Resources for National Philanthropy Day on November 9th, as she should be since she gave birth to the organization in 1990 and continues to be active in many capacities.
We recently caught up with Dorothy to find out what it is about CCCR that keeps her going, as well has her thoughts on her recent distinction and the future of Collier County. Read below to learn more about Collier County’s own early-education trail blazer.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN VOLUNTEERING AT CCCR?
Since I stopped actually working, which was in 2005. But I was on the board while I was working, so at least 20 years.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WITH CCCR?
This is very different because I used to be in Niccole’s role. In 1990, the State of Florida established what they called Child Care Resource and Referral offices in each of the 67 counties. And I applied for the Director position, not knowing anything about it, through the Naples Alliance for Children who had received the award from the State to manage it for Collier County.
So I started the office called Child Care Connection. It was a resource and referral source to help parents find quality child care, and it also served as an information board for the providers of child care in the county. By 1992ish, because the Naples Alliance for Children could no longer support the organization (i.e. pay for my salary and office space), I went to Childcare Southwest Florida, whose main office is in Fort Myers. And I became an employee there doing the same thing. But we moved offices, and I was allowed to hire an assistant or a co-worker, and she’s stayed with the agency all this time. And that’s how I’ve known about the organization, because I was in there on the ground floor. And when you become the mother of an agency, believe me your loyalties will never fade. I found it fun, I found it very interesting and very useful, and I met a lot of people around the State and, of course, in Collier County. We did a lot of outreach in those days; we used to go up to Tallahassee every year on Children’s Day, and we used to have our representatives in Tallahassee conduct a forum for all of the non-profits involved with children to present their needs. But when I first started, I visited every child care center in the county. And we also were instrumental in establishing licensed family child care homes, because in Florida they didn’t have to be licensed, but they do now. So that’s how I got started.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION THAT APPEALS TO YOU THE MOST?
Well the growth, because when we first established the agency, we did not do child care. We did not have centers here in Collier County. Child Care Southwest Florida in Fort Myers did; I think they had 14 centers, but we never did. So the fact that we are now owning a center and running centers and we have the school contract, that’s the exciting thing. The changes, the growth. Taking on more responsibilities. I love the fact that we have Child’s Path, which we actually own. And we have Little Wonders, which is a rental situation, and we still have that school contract. So that’s why. We’re open to change, assuming more responsibility, and contributing more to the county as a provider now. It’s become exceedingly interesting.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO HAVE BEEN CHOSEN FOR THIS AWARD?
I was absolutely thrilled! My house is filled with plaques and things that have my husband’s name on it, recognizing all the things that he did. And this is the first thing that I have with my name on it. Not that we have a contest or anything, but he’s also done a lot of volunteering and advocacy for our district and for the State of Florida. But what really upset me was that I got so sick that I couldn’t go to the awards ceremony. But I was absolutely thrilled. When you do work like this, you don’t expect to get anything in return except knowing that you’re doing something for good for people who need a leg up. But this was lovely. I thank you guys, it’s wonderful.
WHAT’S SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCES WITH CCCR SO FAR?
The biggest pleasure in this volunteering is visiting THE centers. I love to visit our centers with the children, and spend time talking to the teachers and seeing the wonderful greeting you get from kids. The hugs and showing off their work, that’s the biggest pleasure is going to see the kids. I was a high school English teacher, so I never really worked with kids, and I only raised a single child, so that’s my pleasure now.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE IN THE FUTURE IN COLLIER COUNTY?
My dream has always been to get preschool teachers the salary they deserve. And I see absolutely no growth at all. In fact, we’re going backwards. The fact that we pay so little means that it becomes difficult to get qualified, educated people to work in the industry. But that’s my concern with child care, is that we still don’t value the career of working with children. They do in other countries, it can be done. But we don’t, and we’re not getting anywhere. It’s depressing actually. We have all kinds of information and research that proves how valuable the pre-kindergarten care is to growing and to developing children. We know it makes a big difference. And still we won’t pay for it. It’s annoying. Do you know how little those people make who are taking care of the kids? When I was a teacher, we never had to buy the supplies. I never heard of anything like it, and the list of supplies they give to the kids that the parents have to get… Do you have any idea how stressful that is to parents if they can’t afford the child care? So my big platform is that we do not support the pre-school experience in any way. Nobody pats the teachers on the back except those of us who work with them.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING WHEN YOU’RE NOT VOLUNTEERING FOR CCCR?
Well, now that I’m “of age”, my husband and I have discovered cruising. So we try to take a cruise every year, as long as I can still get to the ship. I had a mother who lived to 91, and wow she was a dynamo. And I always say, “Why can’t I do this? My mother could do it”. But my husband and I have found the joy of cruising. We’re going again in May to the Balkans. It’s going to be an interesting experience for me, because I speak French and Spanish, and to be in a country where I can’t speak the language and can’t understand it, I find frustrating. When I visited Japan I found the most frustrating part of traveling is not being able to talk to the people.