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An Interview with Seth Saeugling

Recently, our EVP interviewed Seth Saeugling, a Summer Fellow at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, funded through support from the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation Fellowship Program.  Without further ado:

Tell me about yourself.

My conviction in becoming an early childhood advocate was born out of my experience as a high school special ed teacher. My students struggled mightily to make it to and across the finish line of high school graduation. The biggest challenges my students faced at age 17, 18, and 19 were primarily linked to a lack of support and services they did not have access to from birth to 5, before they even entered the K-12 system. This understanding pushed me to leave the classroom to work supporting parents of kids 0-5 get ready for Kindergarten. My mission is two-fold. First, to use human-centered design to truly understand kids’ & parents’ needs from birth to 5. Second, build programs and early childhood systems of care based on the understanding of these needs.


What are you doing this summer?

Three projects:

1) I’m working with the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation to build out their Financing Toolkit. I’m creating case studies that detail local policy and funding instruments available to communities and identifies successful approaches and paths to advance them from across the country. These studies profile the great work being done to build new local funding streams for early childhood in Florida, Missouri, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

To see the toolkit: link here

2) I’m working with the Jaime Kirk Hahn Foundation to understand community & economic development mechanisms available in North Carolina. The goal is building a model focused on building out capacity of early childhood education programs through the use of economic development tax credits (Historic, New Market, Low-Income Housing), sustainable energy tax credits (Solar), and federal funds (such as HUD Community Block Development Grants). The main focus is to develop a model that can blend these tax credits and funding streams to build new programs that are co-created with the community so the programs will be developed based on local, community need.

3) I’m working with the North Carolina Community Foundation to use human-centered design interview tools with local community leaders to develop a grant making strategy for a new $20 million endowment for rural community development. I’m working to document and illustrate the most pressing needs, opportunities, and assets in Eastern North Carolina by telling the stories captured through research.

To see the story of the endowment: link here

If you share the same mission and are interested in connecting further about our shared work, let’s talk. Please contact me:


What is the biggest, boldest new idea you hope catches fire to improve children’s lives?

Not to be too broad with my answer but my mind jumps to the macro level.

In 1964, the Surgeon General’s report on the consequences of smoking cigarettes was released. From 1965 to 2010 the number of smokers fell from 42 percent to 19 percent and it is estimated that over 800,000 deaths from lung cancer were prevented.

In 1997, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study results were released. The study had brought light to the most expensive public health issue in the United States: child abuse. The study found that the overall costs were more than cancer and heart disease. The study found that eradicating child abuse in America would reduce the rate of depression by half, alcoholism by two-thirds, suicide, IV drug use, and domestic violence by three-quarters. It would also have a dramatic effect on academic achievement, dropout rates, career success and decrease the need for incarceration.

The ACE study has yet to catch fire like the Surgeon General’s report did.

I hope the idea that catches fire is belief that we can do this.

We can build local systems of high-quality early childhood supports from prenatal through birth through third grade. The vision of all kids in a community reading on grade level by third grade is possible. There are huge pieces that need to continued to be improved to make this happen. But I know it’s possible. My hope is that we see local communities across the country start to adopt models of programs we know work and build out coordinated systems of care, specifically for our most vulnerable kids.

This will involve a great increase in funding & resources, and we can follow the lead of states like Florida and Missouri. This will involve increased coordination of services across different systems: health, education, faith-based, law enforcement, etc. This will involve innovating training programs that recruit diverse talent from our communities and we can learn from programs like the apprenticeship pilot program to train child care workers in St. Louis.


What books are on your bedside table?

The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

Emotional Readiness: How Early Experience and Mental Health Predict School Success by Dr. Teri Rose

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson

Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Salk


What is your favorite childhood memory?

When I was around 11 years old my dad took my friends and I to sneak into a private abandoned quarry in the upper Midwest to go swimming for the afternoon. The quarry that had been filled in with spring water and was nestled in the back of a large, many hundreds of acres estate. It appealed to me for many reasons: adventure, exploration beautiful nature, escape.


Netflix? What are you binging on these days?

Parks & Rec. My partner and I love the entire cast. Leslie Knope’s optimism, relentless action and commitment to public service. Ron Swanson’s integrity. I could go on for a while so I’ll stop here.


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