The Erikson community mourns the passing of Bernice Weissbourd, a long-time leader in the field of early childhood.
A life-long resident of the Chicago area, Bernice had national impact through her innovative approach to supporting families of young children. Like her friends Irving Harris and Barbara Bowman, Bernice was keenly interested in giving children the best start in life.
Bernice entered the early childhood field around the time the Head Start program began and moved from classroom teaching to directing programs. Along the way, Bernice observed the interplay between family and child wellbeing, and she broke ground as a leader in the emerging field of “family support.”
A milestone moment in Bernice’s extensive career was her founding of Family Focus in 1976. The organization grew from one to seven sites around the Chicago area and was the model for thousands of family support/strengthening programs across the country.
Bernice was an early supporter of Erikson and joined our Board of Trustees in 1966. In 1990 she was named a Life Trustee. In 2010 she received an honorary degree from Erikson, and in 2011 she was a member of the Gala Host Committee.
Barbara Bowman remembers Bernice fondly. “Bernice was one of the most outstanding innovators in the field of family support. She was a creative thinker and an enthusiastic advocate on behalf of children and families. She was a friend and colleague for over 70 years and will be sorely missed,” Barbara says.
Erikson Professor Linda Gilkerson also worked with Bernice through the national organization, Zero to Three.
“Bernice was a grounded visionary—she fully understood the present realities of life for children and families, and she knew what should be there for them. She worked tirelessly with many partners to bring about social change—Family Focus, Ounce of Prevention (now Start Early), Family Support America. She envisioned an AARP for parents—a power base for their support and advocacy. No one was a stronger voice for families than Bernice. She lived and led with joy, brilliance, and compassion for all those whose lives she touched,” Linda says.
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