Be the Change – Yvonne (Nenadal) McQuaid: Giving Children A Strong Start In Life

Yvonne (Nenadal) McQuaid describes herself as “getting to the age where I’m starting to look back at my career.” But Yvonne doesn’t show any sign of slowing her efforts to do good in her community – starting with her own family and extending to families throughout Butte County through her position as director of Butte County’s First 5. Yvonne became director three years ago, after twelve years of working with First 5 as a commissioner representative. In addition to this fulltime job, Yvonne is raising her two-year-old grandson. Karen Pautz, director of First 5 Siskiyou and Yvonne’s longtime friend, says Yvonne’s legacy “will be her work as a champion for valuing families as their childrens’ first and most important teachers.”

Yvonne shares some of her story and insight in the interview below.

Please share a little bit about First 5 and what inspired you to work with them.

First 5 resulted from the 1998 California Children and Families Act, which taxes tobacco products to create local resources for pregnant women, newborns and children through age five. We focus on this range because research shows critical brain development occurs in the first five years of life.

When I began with the commission, I had been reading new research on brain development and was extremely impressed and concerned. We think our little guys are just sitting there, but they are little sponges, absorbing all the positive and the negative around them. The number of words a child can speak by the age of three impacts her success in kindergarten, which affects her third-grade reading level, which influences whether or not she will graduate from high school. I appreciate the opportunity to help little ones get nurturing and education in safe, healthy families so that their little brains can properly develop.

You seem to love what you do! What would you say to those discouraged about their careers?

My generation traditionally followed a straight career path, but my opportunities made my path pretty jagged. Now, I see all my experiences came together for this position. I encourage young leaders to keep themselves open to new experiences. Understand what your passion is more than focusing on the career path. Do what you love; you’ll find ways to get paid for it. For me, children were always the commonality.

You’ve got a full professional life; can you share a little about your personal life?

I have three adult daughters, who have been absolutely critical in my life. I am also finishing adopting my two-year-old grandson. My daughter had the insight to say, “I’m not able to do this.” She and I worked together as a team to make this decision, which was very painful and emotional, but there were circumstances that made it necessary. For three years, I also took care of my parents, so, for a period of time, I had a mother with Alzheimer’s, a full-time job, and a very active toddler. I would never have made it through without my “village.” I had girlfriends who brought dinner over, plus Feather River Palliative Care workers, hospice staff and family members who took shifts to give me a break. These people who surrounded me with love enabled me to give my parents and my toddler good, loving care at very critical times in their lives.

As someone personally and professionally invested in early childhood development, what would you say about fostering and adoption?

One social worker told me California has the largest growing population of grandparents caring for their grandchildren. In my case, life took a sudden turn that completely changed my direction. Before, my hobbies included travel, reading and hiking. Now, they include fort-building and keeping a toddler from falling off chairs. But I can’t even put into words what my grandson has brought to my life. I consider it a gift and honor to be able to care for him, and I can only do it with the support of family, friends, and fantastic social workers and professionals with Lilliput Children’s Services* and Butte County Children’s and Adoption Services. I can’t thank them enough. I would like people to know there’s a tremendous need for healthy, safe foster families. Loving in action is what it all comes down to. 

Author’s Note:  To provide her grandson with a sense of belonging, Yvonne will return to her maiden name, McQuaid, which was already part of her grandson’s name.

Jenna Christophersen
About Jenna Christophersen

Jenna Christophersen is a Chico native who loves her community and can never get quite enough of the arts. She supports fostering creativity in any venue, especially as a part of young people’s daily lives.

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