First Things First recognizes Danielle Duran at the Coolidge Public Library, as the 2021 First Things First Pinal Region Champion for Young Children.
The award is given to local champions who actively volunteer their time to raise public awareness of the importance of early childhood development and health. Champions spend a significant amount of time volunteering with Arizona’s early childhood agency, First Things First (FTF), and building public awareness about the importance of early childhood issues.
Duran, known in the community as Miss Dani, is a Librarian at the Coolidge Public Library and has volunteered with FTF to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood education in the community. She will be recognized at the May FTF Pinal Regional Council meeting.
A lifelong Coolidge resident, Duran’s dedication to her community is obvious.
“I’m severely invested in this town,” she said. ““Growing up in this town, you really see and know what’s going on in the community and what kids have to deal with. I want to help it be the best that it can be in any way I can.”
Duran’s dedication is evident in the creativity, enthusiasm and love she brings to her role at the Coolidge Public Library, where she runs a variety of programs, including Story Time, Tween Titans and is now in charge of teen programming as well. Additionally, Duran serves as the face of the Coolidge library at outreach events where she leads community members in engaging activites that help them connect to their library and learn how it can serve them.
As a Champion for early childhood, Duran doesn’t see her role as serving families alone, she also actively works to grow community investment in supporting young children through helping to train others in ways to support early childhood efforts including a virtual story time where local leaders read to young children online.
Duran believes bringing that engagement in early childhood builds a legacy. She states that teaching young children how important they are to their community is an investment that will pay back when those children grow up.
“When you build [these supports] and you build it young, it has a lasting impression,” she said.
While supporting Coolidge Head Start and Minibears Preschool, Duran saw the positive impact that early childhood programs offered and understood that not all children have the access to benefit from them. She modeled her story time program to fill in some of those gaps for children.
Duran has sought to increase literacy tools for preschool-aged children, in addition to her collaboration with others, said Joyce Baker, Coolidge Public Library manager.
“She found partners like the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and First Things First to enhance services to families of preschoolers,” she said.
Duran’s story time, which is in partnership with FTF, helps to inform families of young children about resources available to them. Each week parents and caregivers learn about supportive local resources and feel empowered as their child’s first teacher, in addition to cultivating of love of reading and learning through stories and song.
Since the pandemic, Duran increased programming to meet the needs of families, balancing both safety and the importance of community engagement through online programming. Duran has collaborated with FTF to host Chicka Chicka Zoom Zoom, a multi-library online event where families pick-up free resource bags with activities and information to use during the library’s online story time. Additionally, she has been an important voice in planning the last two Week of the Young Child” programs, an annual event that celebrates the importance of connecting and educating young children.
Duran jokes that when she first started working for the library in 2010, her friends thought it was an ill-fit, saying, “you’re so loud and full of energy.”
Indeed, Duran’s excitement and energy fills a room, but she sees this as a perfect fit for the library.
“The library isn’t what people stereotypically think it is,” Duran said. “It’s a community hub where people grow and engage with one another.”
About First Things First — As Arizona’s early childhood agency, First Things First funds early learning, family support and children’s preventive health services to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten. Decisions about how those funds are spent are made by local councils staffed by community volunteers. To learn more, visit FirstThingsFirst.org.