Center Aims to Change Lives of More Families, Young Children

Patty Miller MS’96 and David Miller support the Center for Children and Families, which offers programs like Juega Conmigo, a free, weekly parent-child playful learning program taught by bilingual instructors.

“Buenos días. ¿Cómo están? Muy bien, gracias. ¿Y cómo les va?”

Children and parents clapped along and sang as Adriana Villa Baird led the welcome song at the open house of the new Juega Conmigo (Play with Me) classes in Dallas' Vickery Meadow neighborhood.

The open house kicked off the celebration of recent expansion efforts of UT Dallas’ Center for Children and Families, whose resources promote optimal child development through research, practice and outreach.

Juega Conmigo, led by bilingual facilitators, is a free, weekly parent-child playful learning program for children up to 3 years old. After serving more than 400 children in its first three years in the Bachman Lake area, the program recently expanded to Vickery Meadow and Pleasant Grove, which are about 10 miles and 25 miles south of UT Dallas, respectively. 

Weekly classes also are now held at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Plano, about 8 miles northeast of the University. 

“The goal of Juega is to promote positive parent-child relationships, parenting knowledge and playful learning to support school readiness starting in the earliest years,” said Baird, the Juega program manager.

It all fits into the work of the children and families center.

The center, housed in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, provides developmental screenings in Spanish and English for young children to assess their motor skills and cognitive, language and social-emotional abilities. In addition, the center holds annual events that include a fall forum, research fair and spring lecture series.

Center for Children and Families logo

The Center for Children and Families was established in 2008 to promote optimal family and child development through research, practice and outreach. The center's programs are focused around three key initiatives: parenting healthy children and families, strengthening interpersonal relationships, and enhancing thinking and learning.

UT Dallas brings a wealth of knowledge and resources to the center’s mission. Center-affiliated researchers study bilingual development in children, how social processes contribute to poor health among young children living in poverty, and the relationship between self-regulation skills and school readiness, among other areas.

Philanthropy has played a key role in the center’s efforts and growth.

Dallas natives Patty and David Miller are dedicated supporters of the center. Patty Miller MS’96 is an alumna of the Human Development and Early Childhood Disorders program, and chair of the CCF Advisory Council. David Miller is a UT Dallas Development Board member. Together, they understand the importance of early childhood development and support.

“It is wonderful to watch these families become aware of how ready babies are at birth to listen and learn,” Patty Miller said. “They see that talking, singing and playing with their young children are very important activities to do every day.”

Along with the Millers, individuals, corporations and foundations have supported the mission of the center, which was established in 2008 with a grant from The Meadows Foundation. Total funding received reached close to $300,000 in 2013.

Still, support from UT Dallas, local foundations, organizations and donors is not enough to cover the expansion needs and maintain programming. A waiting list for developmental screenings persists, and other neighborhoods wait for the Juega program to arrive closer to home.

The demand for services outpaces the center’s available efforts and resources.

“Programs like Juega Conmigo need support because they happen right in their neighborhood, just as it should be,” David Miller said. “Lives are being changed for the better, not only for current families, but for generations to come.”

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Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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