Blog | August 24, 2023

Partner Spotlight: A Special Appreciation for Mission: Readiness’ Early Childhood Aims

U.S. Army Reserve Specialist Jesse Rojo’s military service career and early childhood organizing experience make him an invaluable partner in Illinois

Mission: Readiness Illinois has the pleasure of working with many capable and respected individuals at partner coalitions and organizations. These colleagues bring to the table a wide range of expertise in various issues affecting early childhood education and care. One in particular is uniquely able to connect the two sides of Mission: Readiness: a background in military service and a passion for providing young children with high-quality early childhood care and education opportunities.

Early Learning Policy Organizer Jesse Rojo comes from a family where military service is an honored tradition, so it came as no surprise to anyone when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army Reserve in February of 2017. Unfortunately, Jesse quickly experienced firsthand the massive recruitment problems the U.S. military is facing: In basic training, he learned the ropes with individuals who lacked fundamental reading and writing skills, and he helped those he could with written work.

Jesse Rojo headshot

You aren’t going to fix illiteracy in high school; you have to start addressing it at age 0.

Jesse Rojo, Early Learning Policy Organizer in Illinois

His observations are not isolated. As Mission: Readiness has extensively reported, the U.S. Department of Defense has found that 77% of youth — aged 17-24 nationwide — are ineligible for military service due to a combination of factors. These include health issues such as obesity, lacking the necessary academic requirements, and behavioral considerations, like having a criminal background or history of substance abuse. Reflecting on his time in training, Jesse summarized the problem saying, “We’ve lowered our standards because we’re not capable of having the same level of eligibility, and a huge part of that is education.”

Jesse’s experiences growing up, time in basic training, and active service all sparked a desire to work with low-income parents of color and help increase access to high-quality early childhood services. Working for nearly 8 years in total at Chicago-based COFI (Community Organizing and Family Issues), his love for early learning organizing grew because of its ability to bring people together. The desire to better opportunities for children as a way to help families, invest in the economy, protect neighborhoods, and improve national security is what drives Jesse to engage in this work, and what he admires about Mission: Readiness.

“Mission: Readiness expands the audience,” said Jesse. “It allows early learning to be an issue that transcends political divisions. It’s awesome having military folks with strategic nature and military precision calling for increased investments in high-quality early childhood programs. They know it means we will have more available recruits and be able to raise our standards, making us better able to protect our nation.”

Working with such incredible individuals at organizations with similar goals to Mission: Readiness is what drives our work in Illinois, creating a better state for children and families. Thank you, Jesse, for your service, partnership, and passion, and congratulations on your recent wedding!

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