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Early Child Development Matters

Ronn Cort

Providing children the best opportunity for healthy development and success as adults requires a deliberate balance between structured activity and play. Family and trained professionals play important roles in a child’s development. Leaders in business and child care advocacy spoke about the importance of nurturing young people at the recent Columbia Montour Early Child Care Summit.

The event, held April 24 at Rolling Pines Golf Course and Banquet Facility, was organized by the Columbia Montour Early Learning Investment Committee to highlight the short and long-term benefits of quality early child care. The recently-formed Committee is comprised of representatives of member businesses, child care providers and advocates, the United Way of Columbia and Montour County, and the Chamber. Diana Verbeck, executive director of Danville Child Development Center and former Chamber Board member, is chairing the committee.

Gene Barr

Guest speakers at the Summit included Roberta Schomburg, PhD., executive director of the Fred Rogers Center, Gene Barr, president of the PA Chamber of Business & Industry and member of the PA Early Learning Commission, and Ronn Cort, COO & president of SEKISUI SPI. M. Holly Morrison, D.Ed., president and CEO of the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation and Chamber board member, emceed the event and reinforced the messages of the speakers with anecdotes from her 30-year career in education.

Dr. Schomburg provided a foundation for the discussion by speaking about the importance of positive family and interpersonal relationships, outlining the principles of learning readiness, and highlighting the role of educators in recognizing the development level of each child. Healthy development includes balances between structured activities and play, as well as between group activity and solitude. Children should have ample opportunities to explore and be creative. 

Creativity, critical thinking, and healthy interaction skills carry forward for success in the workplace. Barr and Cort reinforced that these qualities in people cannot be replaced by automation or artificial intelligence. Research also shows that exposing children, particularly females, to STEM fields is critical to developing interest.

Roberta Schomburg

“Early learning is a workforce issue, and workforce is the number one issue of members of the PA Chamber,” Barr said. Workforce is also the number one issue of members of the Columbia Montour Chamber. Pennsylvania needs to better align its funding priorities to invest in early learning and education, according to Barr. He was recently appointed co-chair of the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center by Governor Wolf to assess the educational and workforce development infrastructure.  

SEKISUI is taking matters into their own hands by building a 24/7 child care facility at the South Campus in Scott Township, Columbia County.

Cort stressed that the millions of dollars in new investment in the company’s local facilities and significant increase in productivity in recent years is a direct result of their people. The investment in a child care facility will support their working families now and help foster the future workforce for generations, according to Cort.

Following the Summit, the Committee is finalizing a survey for employers to distribute to their employees with child care needs. The results of the survey will help guide the work of the Committee to improve quality child care resources in Columbia and Montour counties.

The evening prior to the event, the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor was shown at the Berwick Theatre. The documentary explores the decades of work of television personality Fred Rogers, who was driven to instill a sense of self-worth in children and encourage understanding. The Fred Rogers Center was established in Latrobe, Pa. in 2003, the year of Rogers’ death, to carry his legacy forward. Information about the Center is available at

Both events were sponsored by The Berwick Health and Wellness Fund, the United Way of Columbia and Montour County, and the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission.

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