Jean Gowen, president of the Nancy Travis Childcare Project, is an active leader within the Athens community. She devotes a great deal of her time and energy to ensure that all Athens-Clarke County children have access to quality early care and learning programs.
This was not always Gowen’s primary focus and career goal.
Gowen studied and worked in music education, journalism and psychology before eventually finding her true passion in child care. Little did she know that she would later encounter an experience in her life that would change the course of her career forever.
“Two women from the same community in Tampa, Fla., where I was living at the time, felt like the only child care center available to the children in the area was not appropriate and wanted to start a center of their own,” Gowen said.
The two women sought out a local church and asked the minister if they could rent the Sunday school building for their new child care center, Gowen explained. The minister agreed and called upon Gowen for her help with the project. With no previous experience in running a childcare facility, she accepted.
This opportunity inspired Gowen to go back to school and she received a doctorate in educational and child development psychology from the University of North Carolina in 1983.
After settling into her new career, she came to Athens in 1997 to be with her children who were attending the University of Georgia.
Gowen quickly noticed the severity of poverty within Athens-Clarke County. She became involved with many organizations to help those less fortunate including Athens Justice Project, the Childcare Resource and Referral Agency and One Athens.
She came up with the idea for the Hope for Babies Scholarship. An idea based on the HOPE Scholarship granted to college students in Georgia but focused on children. The scholarship helps bridge the gap between the child care families can afford and the quality of care that is needed for the full development of their children.
“If you want children ready to receive the HOPE Scholarship and go to college you need to have the Hope for Babies Scholarship so they have a quality early childhood education that provides the child with a strong foundation for future development and school success,” Gowen said.
In 2008, she pitched this idea to the board of a local Athens organization called the Nancy Travis Childcare Project and the board unanimously voted to bring the Hope for Babies program into the organization.
In 2012, Gowen became the president of the Nancy Travis Hope for Babies, Care for Kids, Inc.
“Jean has a real handle on the needs of children in early childhood,” said vice president of the Nancy Travis Hope for Babies, Care for Kids, Inc., Mimi Middendorf.. “She has a genuine interest in our mission of quality early childhood care for all children and has the capacity to lead the board in directions that will help improve our child care programs in Athens and support those families living in poverty who are looking for quality care.”
There is no denying that Gowen has made a difference in the lives of many children and families in the Athens Clarke-County community and she inspires others to follow in her footsteps.
“Jean is truly one of the most remarkable women I have ever met and is willing to do whatever it takes to assist in serving the Athens community,” Morgan Licata, a student at UGA and the account executive for the Nancy Travis Childcare Project Creative Consultants team said. “She is a strong, passionate leader for the Nancy Travis Childcare Project and I definitely look up to her and respect all that she does for this wonderful organization.”
Gowen said, “My team and I are passionate about our cause because we realize that it is a small investment that reaps large dividends for children in the long run.”