Seattle Foundation Blog

In Other Words: Paola Maranan

A conversation with the Executive Director of the Children's Alliance

April 17, 2018

This article was first published in Seattle Foundation's Heart & Science magazine, Volume 4.

As executive director of the Children’s Alliance, Paola Maranan leads an organization that advocates for better public policies and practices that improve the lives of Washington’s children. Maranan, who grew up in Seattle, is a graduate of Harvard University and worked on voting rights in Montgomery, Alabama, prior to her role at the Children's Alliance for the past 20 years. The nonprofit’s policy priorities include improving early education and health care access, and decreasing hunger for children - always through a lens of racial and ethnic equity.


Who or what inspires you?


I had not really been exposed to extreme poverty growing up here. I went to a neighborhood [in Alabama] that was a community of tar paper shacks. There was a young African American boy on the porch, probably 3 or 4, and I just spark to little kids, so I was trying to talk to him. And there was no spark, there was no joy. The challenge of his circumstances were written all over his face and it was heartbreaking. And I juxtaposed that against my own family of immigrant parents, who always said, ‘You can be anything you want.’ He became this symbol of all the racial discrimination and oppression and challenges that I was seeing that stood in such stark contrast to what my parents taught me about possibility and opportunity. I feel as though my life’s work has been about reconciling the two.


Why is it challenging to enact policies that truly address kids’ needs?  


As a culture, we are really sentimental about children, and yet we do such a terrible job around fulfilling that sentiment. We pay a lot of lip service about wanting kids to succeed and kids being our future, but if you examine our public policies and investments, they do not bear out what we say. The work ahead - for all of us in our respective roles - is to deconstruct the systems that perpetuate racism and that create a big gap between where kids are and the opportunities they should have. That’s why we center racial equity in our advocacy work.


Why is early learning support so important and a key focus of the Children’s Alliance?


We think of early learning broadly as not just what happens in formal settings, but as the experiences of young children and families. Early learning is the way we try to support families and young children by giving those children the best boost possible as they prepare to enter school, and as school prepares them for life. It’s a prime period of growth for children in brain development and social-emotional growth. So much of what kids call on later is developed in the early years. It’s such a critical time for us to think broadly about what it means to support young children and to make sure that support is there for all kids.


What is a key issue for you in improving the health of kids here?


We were instrumental in the work to make sure every child in Washington state has access to health care and we are committed to protecting this coverage against emerging threats. It’s critically important to make sure kids have access to preventative care, and the health care they need. What we’re looking at now is the quality of that health care. And really looking at what drives racial inequities, and what drives the unequal access to care and the gaps we see in kids’ health outcomes.


What is the next priority or greatest challenge for you?


If we don’t address childhood poverty and we don’t recognize the intersection between poverty, race and opportunity, we will never get where we want to go as a state; we’ll never secure opportunity for Washington’s children

Heart & Science Magazine

Read Heat & Science magazine Vol. 4 for more on how philanthropists, community organizations and Seattle Foundation are working to create lasting change in health and education.


Learn more about effective strategies to strengthen the Education Element of a healthy community. Interested in making your giving more impactful? Connect with one of our expert philanthropic advisors.



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