We recently celebrated our 50th anniversary, and our family is extremely important to us. Including our children’s spouses, there are 15 of us in our immediate family, and we feel truly blessed.  When we were raising our children Joshua, Jessica and Rachel, their first five years of life were crucial windows of opportunity. We read to them, sang to them, talked to them and played with them. Even as infants, their brains were developing with every word, illustration, song and action.

From the moment babies are born, their brains are forming the connections, or synapses, that will determine how they will learn, think and grow. Neuroscience research has proven that parents who respond directly and positively to coos, smiles and other expressions help shape infants’ brain circuitry, the dense network of 100 billion neurons that process information.

We had some awareness of this research when we were raising our children. Interacting with them came naturally, probably because of our parents’ interactions with us and because Maria was an educator. So when our children entered kindergarten, they were ready to be imaginative learners. They were successful in school and now they are successful in life and have children of their own.

Our seven grandchildren mean the world to us. We are proud grandparents who are actively engaged in their lives. They range in age from 3 to 20, and we are fortunate that they all live in the greater Los Angeles area. As with our children, we have loving, supportive relationships with each of our grandchildren. One is midway through that crucial first five years of life, four are in elementary school, one is in high school and one is in college.

Since our children grew up in an environment where reading, music, talk and creative play were everyday activities, they were well-equipped to nurture their own children. Six of our grandchildren were eager learners when they started kindergarten, and the seventh will be ready when it is her turn.

We wish this were the case for all children, but the fact is that, nationwide, about 60 percent are not prepared to learn when they enter kindergarten. This means they have greater odds of falling behind and having a hard time catching up, which sometimes means years of challenges and frustrations.

There is an exciting new initiative in Pasadena for increasing those odds. Considering all the funding that has been directed to infrastructure in our community over the years, including streets, bridges, utilities and public buildings, it is now time for a new type of infrastructure that will strengthen the foundation for Pasadena’s youngest children.

This initiative, Pasadena as an Early Learning City by 2025, will kick off Saturday, Sept. 23, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a celebration at Brookside Park where there will be fun and engaging activities for children of all ages, parents and other caregivers, grandparents, expectant parents, teachers and everyone else associated with the lives of young children. There also will be entertainment, healthy snacks, cooking demonstrations, representatives from the many organizations in Pasadena that provide services to children and families, and so much more — even big, red fire engines.

Pasadena is rich with resources for young children and their families, but in many cases the dots have not been connected among them. The Pasadena as an Early Learning City initiative will be the linking pin for developing greater collaboration among these resources to benefit today’s very youngest children who someday will be our community leaders. This way, parents and other caregivers will have awareness of and access to these resources so their children can grow to be enthusiastic learners who will be successful in school and in life.

The development of the infrastructure has already begun. The city of Pasadena Office of the Young Child was established by the City Council in 2015 to focus on maximizing resources and integrating best practices and services across city departments, nonprofits and the early learning community. The Pasadena Council for the Young Child, made up of 25 local experts in the early learning field and related disciplines, actively supports the work of the Pasadena Office of the Young Child on a pro bono basis.

Given all the compelling evidence, there is an absolute necessity for this initiative. It is so obvious and unarguable that it cannot be ignored, and the impact is undeniable. It is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. Pasadena’s future depends on it.

You can learn more about it by visiting Facebook.com/PasadenaOYC.

We’re really looking forward to the celebration at Brookside Park. We hope you will join us. 


Mayor Terry Tornek served on the Pasadena City Council for six years before his election as mayor in 2015. Maria Tornek was an elementary school teacher before she became a stay-at-home mother to their three children. She was a KPAS producer for several years and is now a community volunteer.