Seattle, Washington (Spring 2007) — How does a group of independent artists who advocate for emotion literacy awareness go about promoting hard-to-pin-down, yet essential concepts in emotion literacy for children? Emotion Literacy Advocates™ (ELA), does it with a birthday song.
The idea in the song is simple enough: to understand the language of feelings, invite them all to your celebration, for starters. To actually get the song to children who would benefit from this message is another story.
ELA’s initial success was with ELSOTA! (Emotion Literacy School ON THE AIR), a compact disk and sixteen-page study guide that has been incorporated into Seattle Public Schools health education curriculum. This time, the ELA board of directors was aiming to spread understanding of “soft” skills further, quicker and beyond academic settings.
Compounding the conundrum: most of the children ELA is interested in reaching are in no position to pay for a learning tool, no matter how excellent; the social service organizations that serve children are notoriously under-funded; the children served by these organizations dearly need the advantages of social-emotional learning.
ELA’s solution: the gift economy. Responsible individuals and business owners want to give back to the community, but often lack time and expertise to evaluate what is needed. Professionals in non-profit organizations know what would help the children they serve, but struggle to fund what they need. ELA decided to connect the expertise of helping professionals with the generosity of forward-thinking sponsors for the benefit of children—and to fulfill ELA’s mission: to create learning forums for insight into emotion through language and the arts. By giving a gift of ELA’s song, sponsors give experts a useful tool.
The next step was to see how the idea would fly. In August 2006, ELA contacted Children’s Hospital to gauge interest in ELA’s latest learning tool, The Full Spectrum Birthday Song (or Why Just Happy?). The response was encouraging. The Child Life Department requested CDs for their birthday gift program and music therapist David Knott loaded the song into his iPod to use as a resource for in-patients. Another call led to Treehouse for Kids, a non-profit organization supporting children in the foster care system. Treehouse evaluated The Full Spectrum Birthday Song, then enthusiastically requested 1,200 copies.
To date, ELA is pleased to count twenty-three non-profit, city, state and national organizations that have requested 8,000 gift CDs. The CD gift program touches children in hospitals, foster care, learning centers, emergency and transitional housing and through programs focused on mentorship, parent training, success and self-sufficiency.
“It’s faith producing to see how many organizations recognize and value the gift of social-emotional learning wrapped in a song,” says Pamela Sackett, who originated the music and lyrics. Executive directors, child specialists, case managers and program heads closely scrutinized the song. “Such conscientious examination assures ELA and our sponsors that we are placing The Full Spectrum Birthday Song CD gift into capable and caring hands,” says Sackett, “The arts can do so much when generated and applied with clear intention.”
Sponsors are lining up, too. Gifts of materials and services from both the west and east coasts along with a grant from the Windermere Foundation has resulted in ELA producing an initial run of CDs and fulfilling the first 8,000 requests in June, 2007.
Of course, individual and group purchases of The Full Spectrum Birthday Song CD help support the gift program’s growth.
With systems thinking at its core and mutual inclusivity one of its organizing principles, ELA’s characteristic approach invites uncharacteristic considerations. As Windermere representatives said, “We had to think outside the box for this. We’re glad we did because it allowed us to recognize the important aspect that ELA is addressing; we’re excited about the nurturing component.”
ELA aims to reach more organizations, state by state, and see how far this “perceptual nudge” as Sackett puts it, can go. Sackett adds, “We all have a day of birth, however culturally disparate the nature of our acknowledgement of that fact can be. Birthdays are undeniable and a great catalyst for sparking a celebration of all our feelings on that especially poignant day and every day!”