Positive Bright Start leader retires after nearly two decades leading the early childhood center

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When Anna Jenny joined Positive Bright Start in 2004 as executive director, she brought a fresh approach to the early childhood educational organization. 

Previous leaders had struggled for years with the financial and administrative side of the job, but Jenny’s background as an accountant made it easier to focus on raising money. One of her most significant impacts was on the center’s early childhood education programs, where she sought to create trauma-informed and affordable classrooms.

“Positive Bright Start has found its niche by wrapping our services in a common philosophy of positive interactions, relationship building and trauma-informed care,” Jenny said in an email.

Jenny, now 70, has retired from the position, nearly two decades since she started.

As soon as Jenny had first settled into her new position as executive director, she began to work on her first grant application.

Anna Jenny

Drawing on her experience as an accountant, she co-authored a request for a grant to fund Positive Bright Start’s slew of early childhood programs. That particular grant application wasn’t successful, but it launched years of financially savvy decisions by Jenny at the helm of the child care nonprofit.

“Anna’s ability, it seems like magic to me, the way that she can move grants around,” said Lane Eisenbart, communications manager at Positive Bright Start. “‘Let’s apply for this one’ and ‘We can pay someone to do this in this way.’ Working the magic to make it possible for someone with skills and expertise to be able to do their job and get paid.”

Positive Bright Start offers a wide range of programs, including free mental health services, tuition assistance and a federal meal reimbursement program. 

When Jenny joined the organization, then called the Douglas County Child Development Association, she combined her background in finance with her passion for social work. That allowed her to navigate both the complicated finances of the job as well as continue to develop child care programs.  

“What I think is really unique about Anna and her skill set is that not only did she have a CPA, an accounting background, but also a social work background,” Eisenbart said. “So [she was] able to see a need and then have the technical skills to be able to provide for that need.”

The classrooms were born out of a mission to create affordable spaces for educational child care. Jenny ensured that children who had been kicked out of other places due to trauma and past behavior problems found accommodation in the program.

“My time at Positive Bright Start has afforded me the opportunity to create a career where I could make a significant contribution to others, young children, their families and the community as a whole,” Jenny said.

Eisenbart says the mission of Positive Bright Start will remain the same going forward, but Jenny leaves behind a sizable legacy. The school has renamed its student scholarship fund in Jenny’s honor.

“It’s been really remarkable working for Anna and working with Anna,” Eisenbart said. “I just have a lot of respect for her.” 

The agency has hired a new executive director, Marie Taylor, who previously worked with Lawrence Public Schools as an early child care coordinator.

Eisenbart praised Taylor’s experiences in the school district, specifically her work focused on equity. She said she was excited for Taylor to put a new spin on Positive Bright Start.

As Jenny steps away and leaves the program she’s helped form to others, she is excited to watch the organization expand and continue to make a difference in the community.

“My hope is that the solid foundation of services that we have built will be sustained and grow so that more children can be served,” Jenny said. “Positive Bright Start has had a low profile under my leadership and limited resources to expand. It’s time to step out into the community consciousness and demonstrate the importance of the early childhood years and the difference they can make throughout their lifetime.”

This weekend will offer an opportunity to support Positive Bright Start and sate your appetite.

The center’s first annual Don’t Make Them Wait Food Truck Festival is set for 4:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 10 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2120 Harper St.

Admission is $10 per person, and tickets will be available for purchase at the door. Proceeds will benefit the center’s programming for vulnerable children.

Learn more about Positive Bright Start on its website, positivebrightstart.org.

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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