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 Melissa Bacon, Groundwork's Director of Policy & Advocacy. Melissa joined the Groundwork team in March 2021.
Melissa is an experienced policy professional with more than 20 years in state government, both legislative and executive. As Director of Policy & Advocacy, Melissa builds and leverages relationships in the legislative and executive branches of state government, as well as with state and national partners, to advance policies that support the health and early education of Ohio’s youngest children and their families.
Before joining Groundwork, Melissa served as the Director of Government Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement for OCALI, a nonpartisan organization informing policies that improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. While at OCALI, Melissa advanced issues such as social emotional education, early intervention, Medicaid managed care and waiver services, state scholarship programs for the education of children with disabilities, ending custody relinquishment for families in need of crisis services for their child, and leveraging technology to increase independence for individuals with disabilities.
Melissa has also worked in several health and human services state agencies as a member of leadership teams during the Kasich Administration. She served as the Chief of Policy and Communications for the Ohio Department of Health; Assistant Policy Director for Health and Human Services for Governor Kasich; and Director of Government Affairs for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. In addition, Melissa previously worked as the Director of Policy and Stakeholder Engagement for the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association.
Melissa is the proud mother of three young women, ages 21, 19 and 17.
Check out our Q&A with Melissa 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: Very early in my career I had the opportunity to work for a legislative leader who focused on policies to improve children’s health, safety, and education. Her passion was contagious, and I knew then these were policy areas I wanted to dedicate my career to. I also had the opportunity to learn from many stalwart advocates in the health and human services policy arena and they became role models for me.
Once I had children, many of the policy areas I worked on suddenly had a real-life impact. Child care was expensive (and that was 20 years ago!), we needed access to early intervention and specialized preschool, and our health care coverage would not cover medical and behavioral services that were desperately needed. To this day, the same still rings true. There continue to be inequities, especially for children of color, children from diverse cultural backgrounds, and those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. So, my “why” stays the same, only my resolve has changed – I’m more determined.
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: I think the greatest advice came from a good friend who is also in state policy work. One day after hours of working on a state budget, an outcome that was committed to did not happen. I remember being tired, frustrated, and angry. I remember sitting in my office and crying. I was disappointed, not only in the outcome, but also in the people who didn’t keep their commitment. My wonderful friend walked in, hugged me, and told me to celebrate the small wins (that I could not see in the moment), and the outcome was not a reflection of me as a person – we would come back to fight another day. Big change takes time and perseverance. Eighteen years later, her words are never forgotten.
Q: Groundwork Ohio’s word for 2022 is ELEVATE. What’s your word for 2022?
A: My word is GROWTH. Personally, I am in a new season of parenting where my children are on their way to independence and my whole world is not them all the time. Often, I am not sure what to do with the time, so I have decided to approach 2022 as a year where I can focus and grow professionally and personally in ways I wasn’t able to before.
Q: When you aren’t advocating on behalf of young children and families, what do you enjoy doing?
A: It may sound simple, but I love being with my family – my three girls, my partner Joe, his children and grandson, and my extended family. I am so thankful for each of them and when we all come together, we are a family. For this time in my life, it is my idea of fun and there is nothing better than the house being alive with laughter, noise, and joy. I also enjoy gardening. Often I scream, "Look I grew this!" Finally, the beach is always calling my name.
Q: Describe a scene from your vision of the future for Ohio’s youngest children and their caregivers.
A: My vision is that ALL children will grow and learn in environments that enhance and prioritize inclusion, early learning, and safety from day one. That no child would be an “after thought” or have to have something retrofitted for them. That ALL children wasn’t a vision, it was the foundation. I believe pivotal to my vision is that caregivers are empowered with support and resources, and there is demonstrated respect for the professionals that are critical to making this vision come to life.