Over the next few weeks, Groundwork Ohio is publishing a “Get to Know Groundwork” series, spotlighting members of our amazing team! This week, we’re getting to know Lynanne Gutierrez, Groundwork’s Chief Operating & Policy Offer. Lynanne has been with the Groundwork team since March 2017.
As Chief Operating & Policy Officer, Lynanne executes Groundwork's bold vision, oversees the implementation of the organization’s policy agenda, and integrates Groundwork’s external affairs to build upon a powerful movement that prioritizes the needs of every young child in Ohio. A trusted leader, respected policy expert, and proven strategist, Lynanne manages the Groundwork Ohio policy team and key policy initiatives supported by state and national partnerships and coalitions.
Check out our Q&A with Lynanne to learn more about why she’s a passionate advocate for young children and families in Ohio!
Q: What drew you to early childhood policy research and advocacy? Tell us more about your “why”!
A: My “why,” like so many good stories, is a recipe of caring adults, a good book, and a series of personal and professional experiences. I really can’t remember a time thinking my life wouldn’t be centered on the needs of children and families – I have a memory of telling my grandma why I needed to save ALL of my worksheets from Kindergarten because I might need them to be a teacher one day. I became curious about education policy in high school and had a thoughtful teacher assign me to read Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol that examined poverty and equality of opportunity in public schools. My mind and inner compass have been spinning ever since, identifying the most impactful ways I can match my skills and passion with the harrowing and persistent inequities in outcomes for children and families that exist in our communities.
I was lucky to participate in John Glenn School programming where I was placed in an Ohio senator’s office. My experience there spanning my high school, college, and early law school career exposed me to the realities of how policy is made, but more importantly, for whom it is made. My boss modeled a fierce commitment to racial equity and the unique needs of each of his constituents provided a more exacting lens by which to view the world and identify the root causes of our shared problems. I began my college career with aspirations of becoming an early childhood educator and left to become a family and child lawyer.
During my time in private practice, especially when representing the best interest of a child, I found myself losing sleep over all the “why?” and “what if?” questions. Why did this family arrive at this crisis point and how could their traumatic experiences and circumstances have been prevented? Systems change is difficult, especially when you’re working inside the system. I resolved to return to the public policy world as a child advocate and quickly gravitated toward early childhood policy as the best answer to my questions. Investing in young children and families is the most powerful prevention policy. I am now grateful as a leader of Groundwork Ohio to dedicate my time to advancing a mission that promises equitable outcomes for young children and families in Ohio and offers hope to our communities across the state.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received or a lesson that you’ve learned that has helped you in this work?
A: That’s easy, “never be the smartest person in the room.” Early in my career this guided my professional development and challenged me to constantly learn, grow, and understand different points of view. I naturally understood this to mean I needed to find rooms where there were experts or mentors from whom I needed to acquire knowledge. This advice has evolved over time with more experience and wisdom.
First, I realized I don’t need to just find “rooms” – I can create them! When there isn’t a different or more expert dialogue happening elsewhere, leaders convene the expert voices. Second, my view of who are experts has changed. Policy development, data analysis, and research expertise are all critically important. But everyone impacted by policy is an expert, including children and families. So, the real smarts rest in the ability to listen, build trust, and have authentic relationships with people who are impacted by the policy you are advancing—they are the expert of their own lives.
Q: Groundwork Ohio’s word for 2022 is ELEVATE. What’s your word for 2022?
A: COMMUNITY. As a parent of two young children, Gabe (3) and Arlo (8 months), and after living through the pandemic over the past two years, I find myself like so many others, hungry for community. While our online connectivity is at an all-time high, my world feels significantly smaller. Some of this narrowing has made beautiful space for the big responsibilities and personalities (toddlers, am I right?) I’ve taken on as a mom. But I want to rebuild and reconnect to community so that my husband and I and our children can enjoy the support and shared joy that comes with surrounding each other with new people, places, and experiences. The delight of nearly-Spring weather and the Groundwork Ohio in-person programming we have planned this year has me energized! Perhaps, my word is really an open invitation: “seeking meaningful personal and professional connection.”
Q: When you aren’t advocating on behalf of young children and families, what do you enjoy doing?
A: If I’m not thinking about Ohio’s youngest children and families, I am, with rare exception, with my own children and family—they are truly my whole world. We love cooking big Saturday morning breakfasts, creating whole new worlds before 7am, being connoisseurs of public playgrounds, making mundane tasks and chores an adventure, snuggling, eating ice cream, and totally destroying the playroom. While my grown-up hobbies are mostly dormant for now, I love to read, collect, and peruse old things and quilt. My bucket list includes writing and publishing a children’s book.
Q: Describe a scene from your vision of the future for Ohio’s youngest children and their caregivers.
A: State policymakers are beholden to and held accountable for the unique needs of every young child in Ohio and their caregivers through a symphony of powerful and resourced voices including families and caregivers, professionals, advocates, community leaders, and voters. State policymakers prioritize young children and families through increased public investment in the prenatal to five period of life and the implementation of data-driven policy that improves outcomes and eliminates disparities.