After a decade as executive director of Sprout Family Services, a Homer-based private nonprofit dedicated to the healthy development of children ages 0-5, Jillian Lush is leaving to become Big Brothers Big Sisters Alaska’s chief executive officer.
“I’m glad to have found such a well established, well loved organization to land in,” said Lush, whose last day at Sprout is May 7.
Sprout works with youngsters and families on the Kenai Peninsula, as well as the Aleutian and Pribilof islands, while BBBSA is the statewide arm of a national program that pairs adult mentors, known as Bigs, with youth ages 5-early adulthood, known as Littles.
“I truly believe that mentorship works. I’ve seen that in my work with children and families. Having supportive others to grow and connect with, be inspired and motivated by can really impact someone’s life positively,” said Lush.
Stephanie Stillwell, president of Sprout’s board of directors, praised Lush for “pouring her heart and soul” into the role of Sprout’s executive director.
“We are extremely grateful for her commitment to Sprout and for being a true ambassador for the organization, truly living the mission, vision and values. Jill has been essential in leading the organization to where it is today, thriving,” said Stillwell.
With the support of state and federal grants, Sprout serves children identified by either parents or medical professionals as potentially being at risk for a delay in development. Evaluation by Sprout staff, including physical, occupational and speech therapists, helps create an individualized therapeutic plan.
“Ultimately we follow the family’s need about what they want support with,” said Lush. “Being the mom of a new toddler, I completely understand how much support is needed for families with young children. You can’t do that parenting work in a vacuum. It’s really good to have expertise at Sprout to help when things need some intense intervention or when you’re just trying to get resources for your child.”
During her 10 years with Sprout, Lush has helped increase the number of families served by the organization — from less than 100 annually to now 375-400 children through just one of Sprout’s programs, the Imagination Library. A shift also has occurred in Sprout’s focus, from the child to the child within the family and how Sprout can support the family in being the child’s best teacher.
The biggest change in the past 10 years has been expanding the age of youngsters served from 0-3 to 0-5.
“That’s when we changed the name from ‘Birth to Three’ to ‘Sprout’ to signify that we’re really wanting to impact early development before kids are in school,” said Lush.
Amanda Eben and her daughter Isabella came into contact with Sprout when Isabella was 7-months-old. Born prematurely and weighing only one pound at birth, Isabella spent 115 days in a neonatal intensive care unit before she was finally able to go home. Isabella’s health led doctors to consider she might never walk or talk. Making plans to move from Anchorage to Homer, Eben and her daughter were referred to Sprout.
“We did physical therapy, we did occupational therapy, we did speech and I took some parenting classes. They offer so many more things that people don’t even know they have,” said Eben. She even took a massage therapy class that enabled her to massage her daughter’s tight muscles. “They accommodated all Isabella’s needs,” said Eben of her “sassy, walking, talking” 6-year-old daughter who attends Paul Banks Elementary School.
Eben described Lush as “amazing” for her ability to be “quick to fix” any problems that arose and for her advocacy of Sprout. Stillwell praised Lush for creating “a solid foundation for the organization to continue to grow and live its mission of promoting the healthy development of children in partnerships with families and community to ensure that all children are valued and fully nurtured and give the same to the next generation.”
Sprout’s board of directors is working with a professional search firm to make the transition from Lush to a new executive director, but there is one thing that won’t change: Lush’s advocacy of the organization.
“I am confident Sprout is in a solid place, its future is bright and I’m excited to see where Sprout goes from here,” said Lush. “I’ll be right alongside all the community partners and supporters as Sprout’s biggest champion.”