A Father’s Day gift: Iowa dad advocates for his son

Matt Bennett at the 2016 Advocacy Summit


In honor of dads everywhere, for Father’s Day this year we’re featuring SCAN volunteer and great dad, Matt Bennett, who two years in a row has flown from his home in Iowa to Washington, D.C. to be a voice for his son. Nine-year-old Matthew was identified early on as having a speech delay, which would have made it hard for him to succeed in school. However because of the quality early learning program he was enrolled in, Matthew kept up with other kids his age.

Matt Bennet with his son, Matthew
Matt at a Save the Children Action Network event with his son, Matthew

But not every child has the same opportunities. In Iowa, more than half of 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in a preschool program.

That’s why, for two years running, Matt has joined more than 200 advocates for Save the Children and Save the Children Action Network’s annual Advocacy Summit. This year, he met for the second time with his Congressman, Rep. David Young, and both of his senators, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst, to speak up for quality early education.

Matt says the return trip was even better than the first one.

“[Congressman] Young recognized a lot of faces that he didn’t last year,” Matt said. “I work closely with the people in his hometown. Once you make that personal connection with them, they know you, they remember you. It’s easier to get stuff done that way. Young himself was taking notes, he himself was reading over the letters, he himself was asking us questions. You can tell when there’s genuine interest.”

Matt said, with experience comes more ease and confidence in meeting with his elected officials.

“Everything seemed to go easier, smoother,” he said. “I was intimidated the first time I walked into a Congressperson’s office last year — not at all this year.”

“Originally we were going to meet with [Senator] Ernst’s staff. But here comes Ernst, walking down the hall, and she recognized my red shirt. ‘You guys are back again this year!’ she said. ‘Yeah, we’re back again.’ Because she recognized my shirt, she stopped for two or three minutes, put her arm around me and stayed to talk to me.”

Matt experienced something similar with Senator Chuck Grassley.

“Grassley mentioned before the meeting that he only had 10 minutes before he had to go to a vote. But we actually got to spend 20 minutes with him. He has an incredible memory: he knew my name, remembered what I was there for,” Matt said. “That’s the importance of showing up.”

Inspired by Matt’s story? Tell Congress: Expand Effective Early Learning Programs

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Shavonne Clarke manages Save the Children Action Network’s website and blog. She has an MFA in creative writing and, through SCAN, has been fortunate to be able to share the stories of moms and kids in the U.S. and around the world.