United Way Employee Anne Gabbert Wins Indiana AEYC Hoosier Early Childhood Leader Award

Anne Gabbert has spent most of her life advocating for, educating on and improving early childhood education. “I have worked in the field of early childhood for more than 30 years, it’s my Occu-Passion,” she says. This passion, mixed with Anne’s dedication, strategic thinking, leadership and well-developed skills are why she won the 2018 Indiana AEYC Hoosier Early Childhood Leader Award.


“She has such a wide experience — she has done everything from grant writing to coaching to systems development to teaching. She has had a really great impact throughout her career, which is one of the reasons I look up to her,” said co-worker Krystal Robinson, one of five who nominated Anne for the award. The award is presented to an exemplary early childhood leader who understands and demonstrates the organization’s mission and purpose in compelling and influential ways. The award focuses on commitment, advocacy, learning and leadership and was presented to Anne during the Indiana Early Childhood Conference, which brings in around 3,000 early childhood professionals from around the state.


“Anne exemplifies what is means to be a champion for children. She has dedicated herself to ensuring all children in Central Indiana have access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education,” said Kiko Suarez, Chief Community Impact Officer at United Way of Central Indiana. “Her immense passion for the field is inspiring and she does it all with a smile on her face.”


Yet Anne didn’t originally plan to be in the field of early childhood education. The Butler University graduate was originally a music major, but working at a childcare center over summer break changed everything. “Watching learning light bulbs go on every day, that is what gets to me. Children are so incredible, you can literally watch them learning as they explore,” she says. “So I changed my major to early childhood education when I returned to school and never looked back.”


After graduating, Anne immediately stepped into the classroom to teach. Although she loved teaching, she felt that she wanted to have a more global effect, so she made the shift to working on the administration and programming side. But after 25 years working behind the scenes, it was time for Anne to step back into the classroom again – this time in Mexico. “It reminded me of how hard that job is, how hard it is to be a classroom teacher. It is so much more than an eight to three job — it reminded me to not forget about the classrooms, the teachers and the individual programs,” she shares.


Hekab Be Biblioteca group shot
Anne, back right, with her students in Mexico.

Anne spent five years teaching students in Mexico, which she says, “rejuvenated me for a new phase of leadership and development in my career.” That new career was as  early childhood program manager at United Way of Central Indiana. During her three years at United Way, Anne has led the charge of getting every child care provider in United Way’s network to a level 3 or 4 on the Paths to QUALITY program. “At level 3, the doors really begin to open; it means they are eligible to enroll On My Way Pre-K and Indy Preschool Scholarship Program (IndyPSP) families. It also makes them eligible for capacity building grants and growth opportunities,” she mentions.


One of Anne’s greatest accomplishments during her tenure at United Way has been creating a network for early childhood directors and administrators to access. “We identify the needs of our clients and offer solution for the issues,” Anne says of the network. This include providing a leadership coach to help directors and admins become more knowledgeable and bringing in experts to work with directors on recruitment, retention, orientation and work culture to enable them to better attract and retain employees. “Anne sets the tone for the group. Instead of seeing each other as competitors, they see each other as colleagues and friends who work together to provide the best early experiences for children possible,” says Krystal.


Anne with Karim, Reyes, and Galilea

Anne can sum up why she’s dedicated more than three decades of her life to improving early childhood education in one simple statement. “The amount of learning and changes in a child’s brain between birth and age five is absolutely unbelievable, that is why we need to provide them with the best experiences possible in their earliest years to give them that foundation for the rest of their life,” she says.


Although she has made major improvements in the realm of early childhood education for thousands of teachers, children and families, Anne knows there is still much work to be done. “I have a little stone on my desk that says remember why you started, the reason I started and the reason I stay in this field is because our future is nothing if we can’t educate and prepare our children.”


To learn more about Indiana AEYC and the Hoosier Early Childhood Leader Award, visit the Indiana AEYC website. Congratulations once again to Anne on winning this prestigious award!