Venture Philanthropy Partners: Investing in Social Change.


Child and Family Network Centers


In 1984, the mothers of 17 children living in the one public housing development in Alexandria, Virginia learned that their children had failed kindergarten. They were told that their sons and daughters would not be allowed to attend first grade because they lacked fundamental social and cognitive skills. These mothers were bewildered, dismayed, even angry. But they followed their instincts to protect and provide for their children. They created a center in a small office space at the recreation center and found a teacher willing to help prepare their youngsters for school. There were only six children in that first class of preschoolers. Remarkably, all of them were classified as "gifted" when they entered the public kindergarten the following year.

Today, Child and Family Network Centers reaches approximately 200 three-and-four-year-old children living in Alexandria's and Arlington's poorest neighborhoods. Many of their parents do not speak English and need many support services. So, in addition to preparing children for kindergarten, CFNC is a guide for the parents, showing them how to parent, how to find jobs, and how to navigate a complicated social service system. Like the mothers who started that first preschool, CFNC is preparing children—and their families—for learning and for life. Says CFNC Executive Director Barbara Fox Mason, "We have these children for just so many hours; they spend most of their time at home. So, to make a lasting change for children, we have to work with the entire family."

CFNC Website

Investment Fact Sheet

The Child and Family Network Centers
3710 A Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22305

Founded in 1984

Executive Director: Barbara Fox Mason
President, Board of Directors: Steve Nearman

Mission and History
The mission of the Child and Family Network Centers is to provide caring, high-quality free education and related services to at-risk children and families in their own neighborhoods to prepare and empower them for success in school and life.

The Child and Family Network Centers was started in 1984 by a group of mothers living in Alexandria public housing who were dismayed that their children had failed kindergarten. Recognizing that their youngsters needed help in preparing for school, the mothers hired Barbara Fox Mason, a talented teacher who shared the parents’ resolve to improve the circumstances for at-risk children. Mason started the preschool program with six children in one room of a housing project.

Today, Mason oversees seven accredited preschool programs for three- to five-year-olds in Alexandria and Arlington’s poorest neighborhoods. Over the years, CFNC has prepared more than 1,000 children to enter elementary school. In addition to getting children ready to succeed in school, CFNC provides support services to the families of those children.

The Child and Family Network Centers preschool centers are in Alexandria neighborhoods with high concentrations of families living in poverty and in one Arlington neighborhood. Over the years, CFNC has adapted its services and staffing to meet the changing needs of the communities in which it is located.

  • Early Childhood Education: Free nationally accredited early childhood education and comprehensive services for children ages 3 and 4, all considered at-risk for school failure. CFNC’s Preschool Program is designed to give children living in poverty the skills they need to enter kindergarten prepared to learn.

  • Family Support: By helping parents to achieve self-sufficiency, CFNC’s Family Support Program gives children what they need most: strong capable families. Social workers and parents set targets and milestones together which lead to: positive parenting, stable living environments, English language acquisition, and healthy families.

  • Health Services: CFNC’s Health Services Program enables parents to support the healthy development of their children, resolve issues that have an impact on the health of their families, and access community-based services. The Health Services Program is staffed by a Nurse Practitioner who is available to parents at all sites. The Nurse schedules hearing, vision, and dental screenings, refers children who need follow up care and screens all children’s health forms for up-to-date immunizations. Additionally, the Nurse assists families in obtaining health insurance.


Margaret PattersonMargaret Patterson, LSW, was hired as the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer in May 2011. Margaret moved to Alexandria from Dallas to become CEO of The Child & Family Network Centers. Previously, she was CEO and President of the ChildCareGroup, a $15 million childcare multiservice agency. She also served for 17 years as the Executive Director of Child Abuse Prevention Center of Dallas/Fort Worth. While in Dallas, she served on the Board of Directors of the Shaken Baby Alliance and Faith and Liberty Supervised Visitation Center. She also served as Executive Director for a 24-hour emergency shelter for abused children, which pioneered therapeutic intervention. She has administered emergency shelters for battered women, and developed national programs and policies for the YWCA and United Way of America. She received a Master's in Social Work from Boston College.


Steve Nearman

Steve Nearman, Chairman of the Board, is President and CEO of Nearman Financial Consulting Inc., which provides financial advice and planning, investment advice, and management, as well as life, health, dental, disability, and long-term care insurance to individuals and small companies. Fee-based advice is managed by Jefferson Pilot Securities Corp., a registered investment advisor. He also has been a sports columnist with The Washington Times since 1991, as well as a freelance sportswriter for print and online publications since 1982. In addition to his role as President of the Board of Child and Family Network Centers, he also serves as a board member of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and is a Masters Athlete with USA Track and Field. He has a Bachelor's degree from the University of Rochester, and an MBA from George Washington University.

Investment Summary

Please note: this Investment Summary represents VPP's perspective at the time of the investment agreement, September, 2003.

In September, 2003, VPP entered into an investment partnership with the Child and Family Network Centers (CFNC). Through this partnership, VPP will provide $300,000 and strategic assistance to CFNC over a two-year period to support specific components of its strategic plan designed to strengthen the organization and expand their services to reach more children and families. This investment brings VPP’s financial commitment to CFNC to over $600,000, including approximately $300,000 already provided to 1) facilitate a planning process through which CFNC brought resolution to its growth objectives and direction, and 2) support CFNC’s senior management team expansion, fund development resources, organizational and executive coaching, and senior talent recruitment. VPP’s strategic assistance has supported CFNC’s leadership in strengthening their organization, securing support from the Philip L. Graham Fund as a co-investor with VPP, and in engaging Patton Boggs to explore public funding opportunities.

The Child and Family Network Centers seeks to be recognized as an organization that provides the best community-based preschool and comprehensive family services in the country. With a VPP investment, CFNC envisions expanding the organization to increase the number of at-risk children receiving high-quality, free preschool education and to demonstrate its program as a regional and national model for community-based family service. Research has shown that preschool preparation for at-risk children results in powerful positive outcomes for those individuals throughout their lives. One study by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation found that at age 27, individuals who had attended a high-quality preschool had higher incomes and educational levels and lower rates of school dropout, arrest, and welfare dependency than a comparison group who did not attend preschool. The CFNC model of locating preschools and related services in the neighborhoods where at-risk children and their families live enables it to reach children and families in a non-threatening environment.

The planning process that VPP supported helped CFNC management and their board define a clear direction and a scale of growth they feel is achievable. The projected growth and expansion for the organization was more constrained than originally envisioned when the initial VPP planning investment was made. Therefore, the scope of funding and support is scaled appropriately to their refined vision and expansion plans. We respect the planning process CFNC went through and continue to value and support the high quality of services CFNC provides to children of low-income families in Alexandria.

CFNC’s aspirations and long-term goals are to:

  • Expand from eight classrooms serving 140 families in Alexandria to seventeen classrooms serving 270 families through expansion to the West End of Alexandria and South Arlington;
  • Improve the current organizational structure, particularly in the areas of development, communications, outcomes, technology, and human resources;
  • Enhance programmatic initiatives including converting to full-day preschool education, expand support services through partnering or direct service (i.e. before/after care, health care, legal/immigration, mental health, financial/banking advice, etc.).

Key factors that underpin the thinking behind VPP's investment in CFNC include:

  1. Social impact: CFNC provides preschool and social services to needy families that are not able to obtain these services through traditional, preschool, and social service programs. Affordable preschool slots for low-income children are woefully inadequate in Alexandria and the surrounding area, elevating the need for CFNC’s services in these communities. While CFNC is focused on providing a quality preschool experience for children, its programs extend to the needs of the family as a unit. This community-based, integrated model is the key to the success and impact that CFNC has been able to attain with the children and families it serves.
  2. Positioned for growth: CFNC has recently relocated and consolidated its operations into a newly renovated facility attached to the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria. This change has allowed it to begin functioning more efficiently as an organization and deliver its services more effectively. In addition, CFNC has begun to build upon its existing management capacity, an essential change to prepare the organization for future growth and development. The board of CFNC is engaged and extremely committed to the work of CFNC, and has provided substantial resources in support of development initiatives. Recognizing that these changes have not fully “matured,” CFNC is taking formidable steps to position itself to further address the unmet needs of Alexandria and its adjacent communities.
  3. Demonstrated performance: CFNC’s growth since inception has been deliberate and managed. Over the past 18 years, the organization has expanded from a two-hour preschool serving six children to providing preschool services to 140 children, while expanding its impact on children by providing a variety of support services to the family. This integrated model is offered in four separate sites, with the Birchmere acting as the operational “hub”.

An investment in CFNC is likely to be successful in light of the following:

  1. Leadership/management: CFNC is led by a strong, tenacious, and coachable executive director, Barbara Fox Mason. Mason started as the teacher for this program in 1984, providing preschool to six children for two hours a day. She has essentially built the agency up from infancy, serving the needs of approximately 140 children and families in Alexandria. A committed, energetic board of directors supports Mason, providing solid leadership and strategic guidance to the organization.
  2. Catalytic event/change trigger: CFNC has acquired headquarters and classroom space in the Birchmere in Alexandria. Gaining this space has been a catalytic event for the organization, as it provides an excellent base of operations that will allow for refining and demonstrating its model and training others to apply it elsewhere. In addition, growing beyond the organization’s current size and taking on this new headquarters facility will force the executive director and the organization to look at CFNC somewhat differently and to consider the types of changes they need in order to serve a greater number of children and adults.
  3. Community support/external stakeholders: CFNC has great community support and committed stakeholders. Because CFNC locates its sites where its clients live, it is accepted as a part of these communities. In addition, many of the staff of CFNC live in the communities where CFNC operates. Over the years, CFNC has attracted a diverse cast of valuable stakeholders, including local, state, and federal government, foundations, CapitalOne, Easter Seals, Alexandria Recreation Department, SCAN, local churches, etc. These stakeholders are attracted to CFNC because of its track record of excellent work.
  4. Quality programs: All CFNC preschools are fully accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, demonstrating the commitment and capacity of the organization to provide high-quality programs to a population that has relatively few choices. NAEYC accreditation is a credential that symbolizes that an organization has been assessed against national standards of quality developed by the field and has demonstrated its excellence under those standards. It is a much sought after proxy of quality within the field.
  5. Holistic approach: CFNC’s approach is a comprehensive one that includes a wide range of family social services that work together with the preschool experience to build not just each child’s capacity for success, but also each family’s capacity to support the child long term.

CFNC, with the support of the VPP partnership, will work to strengthen its organizational capacity and improve its effectiveness by:

  • Hiring, developing, and retaining key staff;

  • Institutionalizing high-quality professional development opportunities for staff and volunteers;

  • Recruiting, training, monitoring, and providing technical assistance to women living in poverty who wish to become family childcare providers and help these women maintain quality childcare in their homes;

  • Enhancing management information and communications systems to better facilitate the effective management of the organization and help it achieve better outcomes;

  • Increasing internal fund development capacity, and refining the CFNC model of providing high-quality, free preschool education and comprehensive family services to at-risk youth and their families in the neighborhoods in which they reside.


The Child and Family Network Centers (CFNC) is a stronger and more effective organization than it was in 2001. CFNC continues to be a leader in addressing early childhood development and has become a catalyst for action in Northern Virginia. Its effectiveness and sustainability have increased as well. CFNC has expanded both the reach and depth of its programs, added key senior leadership positions, and established innovative partnerships with the city of Alexandria and Arlington County.

Key Accomplishments

CFNC's greater effectiveness led to a 73% increase in the number of children served, from 120 to 207, over four years and program expansion into two new neighborhoods. CFNC greatly increased the impact of its programs by transitioning all remaining half-day programs to full-day, and adding health services and financial literacy programs. CFNC maintained and/or attained accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children at all locations. It has been recognized as a model program by the Montgomery County Department of Human Services and the Maryland Department of Education. CFNC's students' average overall developmental growth far exceeded the national average, particularly for children whose first language was not English. Other noteworthy accomplishments that contributed to improved capacity and increased effectiveness include:

  • Planning and Focus: Completed business planning in early 2003, resulting in a detailed expansion plan to open new sites, strengthen existing programs, and add new programs. Rebuilt a stronger, more engaged board united around new growth plans.

  • Human Capital - Board and Management: Added a Chief Operating Officer and Development Director, transitioned to a management team structure, and clarified roles, responsibilities, and decision-making processes.

  • Outcomes Assessment: Adopted The Rensselaerville Institute's model outcome approach to achieve and define key outcomes to be measured on an organization-wide basis.

  • Increased Visibility: Receipt of $500 thousand Families Count award from Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights achievement on a national scale.

Key Information

Date, years, and stage of VPP Investment:
December 2001; 5 years (complete)
Capital committed and disbursed by VPP:
$600,363 committed and funded
Revenue increase & % budget growth:
$1.1 to $2.6 million - 140% increase in 4 years
Leveraged funding:
$1.3 million
Expansion to new places and coverage:
7 classrooms, 4 sites, and 1 Alexandria neighborhood

Case Study

Paving the Way for School Success

In the early 1980’s, a group of mothers at the Cameron Valley Housing Project got some disheartening news. Their children would not be allowed to attend first grade because they had failed kindergarten and not acquired the fundamental social and academic skills deemed necessary to succeed in school. These mothers were bewildered, dismayed, and even angry.

But they followed their instincts to protect and provide for their children. They created a center in a small office space at the recreation center and hired a talented teacher willing to help prepare their youngsters for school. There were only six children in that first class of preschoolers. Remarkably, all of them were classified as “gifted” when they entered the public kindergarten the following year.

Today, more than 25 years later, Child and Family Network Centers (CFNC) reaches approximately 200 three- and four-year-old children living in Alexandria’s and Arlington’s poorest neighborhoods through seven accredited preschool programs. Many of their parents do not speak English and need support services. So, in addition to preparing children for kindergarten, CFNC is a guide for the entire family, showing moms and dads how to parent, how to find jobs, and how to navigate a complicated social service system. Like the mothers who started that first preschool, CFNC is preparing children—and their families—for learning and for life.

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