June 1 marks the third annual Stand for Children Day, this time with the theme "Stand for Quality Child Care." ECT asked the group's executive director to talk about his goals and how the event is shaping up.

EARLY CHILDHOOD TODAY: Tell us about the mission of Stand for Children. How did your mother, Marian Wright Edelman, get started?

JONAH EDELMAN: She founded the Children's Defense Fund 25 years ago to provide a voice for children in Washington. In late 1995 she decided we needed to try to show the country how strong the support was for children by holding a mass demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial. That gathering, which became known as Stand for Children Day, was a national day of commitment that brought over 300,000 people to Washington. And after that day we turned our energy into making Stand for Children an ongoing organization, one that helps people improve children's lives by taking on policy change, service, and awareness-raising initiatives in their communities.

ECT: How are the plans coming along for this year's "Stand for Quality Child Care" event?

EDELMAN: It's really exciting. We're expecting over 1,000 activities all across the country everything from big rallies and parades to efforts to educate the business community and policy makers about the importance of quality child care to projects like renovating and painting child-care centers. We hope to encourage thousands of people to get involved.

ECT: How will you keep the momentum going year-round?

EDELMAN: We're doing that through what we call CATs - Children's Action Teams. These are community groups that work on behalf of children. Anybody who sees problems out there and has the fire to solve them can form a team. In turn, our organization helps the teams learn how to choose issues effectively and to think in terms of building up influence for children over time. We stress the need to win not just one initiative, as important as that may be. Rather, the emphasis should be on creating a CAT with strong leadership that can win again and again for children.

ECT: What have some of the victories been?

EDELMAN: In Massachusetts, after the state passed a law in 1996 making every child eligible for health coverage, a Children's Action Team persuaded the health department to sponsor a toll-free number letting parents know about the health coverage. We got 3,000 children enrolled. We've also paired up accredited child-care centers with child-care centers that need improvements to try to raise the standard and help them get accredited.

In every case, what we tell people is that they have the passion to be an effective grassroots leader and make real changes for the children in their community. What we'll make sure of is that they've got a solid approach and are part of a larger community of people working for the same goals.

ECT: Obviously, you believe child care is an important issue for America's children. What are some others?

EDELMAN: There are so many, all stemming from the increasing pressures on families. Health coverage is a huge issue, as is the lack of available activities after school and in the summer. If we're serious about making it possible for all children to reach their potential, we have to get serious about the support we're providing familes.

Both of my parents worked when I was growing up. But they were always there for me, and I was also lucky enough to attend great pre-k and kindergarten programs. By first grade I was ready to go, having had that wonderful start in life.

That's something every child should be able to benefit from. All children can succeed. They just need programs and people in their lives who will bring out the best in them.

Jonah Edelman became the executive director of Stand for Children, a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC, after earning his Ph.D. from Oxford University. For more information about Stand for Children Day, call (800) 6634032, send an e-mail message to cats@stand.org, or access the Web at www.stand.org.