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PHOENIX — Through its new Share the Care AZ campaign, First Things First, Arizona’s early childhood agency, is asking Arizonans to show their gratitude for the state’s early child care and education providers.

Throughout the month of May, FTF is recognizing the state’s child care workers, preschool teachers and friend and family caregivers who help young children learn, grow and succeed, a press release from the organization said.

To take part in the campaign, people may visit the Share the Care AZ page, FirstThingsFirst.org/sharethecareaz/ to learn ways to show support early care and education providers.

FTF has posted a Share the Care AZ video on YouTube.

To show their support for those who work with children, FTF said people may use their personal Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages to tag their favorite provider or center with a personal note and may also tag FTF with the hashtag #ShareTheCareAZ when posting.

“The nurturing relationships that child care workers, preschool teachers and friend and family caregivers build with our children are critical to the healthy development of babies, toddlers and preschoolers,” the press release from FTF said. “More Arizonans now realize that the child care workforce is an essential family support and an engine of our economy. This past year has made clear that a lack of quality child care impacts workforce participation and job stability.”

As the pandemic caused the abrupt shutdown of many child care and home-based centers, the importance of child care providers to families, to communities and to Arizona’s economy became clear over the past year, according to the press release.

“For example, more than half of the nearly 1,000 child care providers who participate in FTF’s Quality First program had closed by mid-March 2020. Now, despite drastically reduced enrollment and expensive increased health and safety measures, many centers are determined to serve families who need safe, trusted child care in order to continue working,” the press release said.

Despite the many challenges of the past year, the child care industry has kept a positive attitude, FTF Senior Director for Early Learning Ginger Sandweg said in the press release.

“Overall, their spirit is really positive,” she said. “One owner told me, ‘When I’m starting to have a pity party, I go into the classroom and those children give me hope.’ It’s a mental break. The children are opportunities to find joy and comfort in the nitty gritty of what we do every day.”

For many, the events of 2020 renewed their appreciation for those who provide child care and the essential role it plays, the press release said.

“Especially in uncertain times, early care and education providers offer families critical support when they need it most,” the press release said.

Throughout May, FTF will show its gratitude for child care providers and education on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in hopes that every caregiver in Arizona feels appreciated.

First Things First funds early learning, family support and children’s preventive health services to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.