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Virtual rally gathers celebs, support for early childhood development

Friday - 7/5/2013, 1:05pm  ET

WASHINGTON - Have you ever wanted to "hang out" with celebrities like Jennifer Garner and Soledad O'Brien? Well now you can -- online.

ZERO TO THREE, a D.C.-based national nonprofit that works on issues related to early childhood development, is hosting a virtual baby rally on Google + Hangout to support early learning policies that benefit babies and toddlers.

And Garner, O'Brien and a handful of national policy makers are attending the rally.

The event, titled "Rally4Babies: Learning Happens Right from the Start," follows on the heels of President Barack Obama's recent announcement for the Preschool for All initiative.

"We thought it was critically important people should realize just how important infants and toddlers are," says Patricia Cole, director of government relations for ZERO TO THREE.

Cole says the 30-minute online rally will focus on both new and existing policies that help serve young children, especially those with limited access to resources. In the District, 27 percent of infants and toddlers live below the poverty line.

Nationally, that number is 25-26 percent, according to Cole.

"That puts a huge chunk of children at risk. It's really important to give all children an opportunity," says Cole, who adds that one national program that serves young children, Early Head Start, serves less than 4 percent of children in need.

Cole also stresses the hangout will gather support for the expansion and availability of other early childhood programs and services, such as childcare, home visits and early intervention for children with delays and developmental disorders.

Garner, a mother of two and artist ambassador for Save the Children, has been active on the early childhood education front for several years. She frequently advocates in D.C. for quality education and improved access to programs serving youth.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will also be in attendance, and musician and children's recording artist Laurie Berkner will perform at the rally.

Cole says she is hoping for a broad audience, ranging from interested parents to other early childhood education groups. Those who can't attend the online rally can still participate by signing the online petition, which will be sent to the president and members of Congress.

"Rally4Babies: Learning Happens Right from the Start" will take place on July 8 from 2-2:30 p.m. EST.

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