“You are more than what your circumstances are,” said actress and Miss USA 2002 Shauntay Hinton, on Friday morning at ChildFund International’s early childhood development fundraising kickoff. “No matter how good or bad, they will change.”
Hinton speaks from experience — she was a sponsored child herself. “I was actually very lucky growing up in my small town,” she said, detailing her journey from childhood in Starkville, Miss., to becoming Miss USA.
At a young age, she became involved in after-school programs through Project Brickfire, a day care and community center. “The program helped me to develop a strong sense of confidence very early on,” she said. Hinton and her siblings went on field trips, acted and sang, and listened to speakers. Hinton nurtured a trans-Atlantic pen-pal relationship.
They were even encouraged to volunteer. “We would go out and do a lot of community outreach,” Hinton said. She remembers helping elderly neighbors with housework and running errands for a Miss Brown, who lived in the poorer section of Starkville. This helped prepare Hinton for much of the work she does now, fundraising and promoting ChildFund International.
Her early years were not always so bright.
Her parents separated, and her family struggled financially. Her mother picked up where Brickfire and ChildFund left off. “Reaching full potential takes nurturing through the family,” Hinton said.
“That’s why ChildFund teaches younger mothers to continue to nurture potential,” she said.
ChildFund International’s new campaign, “Unlocking Potential,” focuses on all aspects of early childhood development, in and out of the home.
ChildFund International is a Henrico County-based global child development and protection agency, serving more than 17.8 million children and their family members in 31 countries, according to the group’s website. The agency started as China Children’s Fund, moved to Christian Children’s Fund, and in 2009 became ChildFund International.
Stephanie Baric, early childhood development program director, explained at Friday’s kickoff that the interplay of socio-emotional, cognitive and physical development of children is what the nonprofit organization hopes to balance.
A driving force behind ChildFund’s new campaign is the fact that 167 million children younger than 5 have stunted growth.
“If you’re facing poverty and discrimination, that means you’re losing opportunities,” Baric said. Unlocking Potential hopes to remedy that over the coming years across the 31 countries ChildFund International serves.
“For example, in Ecuador, it’s more about parenting education,” Baric said. “It’s about helping them recognize key milestones and whether or not their children are meeting those milestones.” Meanwhile, in a country like Senegal, she said, the environment is more challenging in terms of health care, so ChildFund must continue to raise funds and allocate efforts accordingly.
“Unlocking potential,” Hinton said. “The slogan says it. That’s all it takes.”