Helping parents and their children
prepare for a better tomorrow

The objective of the Baby Institute is to increase the literacy and language skills of children ages 0-3 by empowering parents to help their children become Pre-K ready thereby increasing the number of students entering school ready and prepared to learn.

The core program of the Baby Institute is the nine-week workshop with subsequent parent connections programming for ongoing support and education. The primary components of the program include structured group activities and games for building parents’ skills and abilities to become their children’s first teachers as well as build parental strengths, knowledge, and resource base within their community.

Parents enrolled in each 9-week Workshop session form a cohort that ultimately becomes a family support network. An important feature of the institute is to build self-reliant families working together to improve their neighborhoods and the future of the next generation. To that end, the Baby Institute identifies and fosters parent leaders who will become future Baby Institute instructors and peer advisors as well as overall community educators. 

Leadership Team

Noelene Smith


With an MSW from UAlbany  and a 30-year background in social work, Noelene’s focus turned to early childhood literacy when her oldest daughter entered second grade and she saw firsthand the effects of the literacy gap and overall inequity in education. The startling statistics - locally and nationally - on educational discrepancies influenced her to work towards  better preparing the next generation for success and in the 1990s, she created a parent advocacy program that would grow into the Baby Institute by 2010. Recognizing that parents are the lynchpin in preparing their children for school and that there is a wealth of knowledge that goes into that preparation, Noelene has dedicated everyday to giving low-income families the tools to create households that foster a love of reading and lifelong learning. She has become a trusted voice within the community for 30 years.

Learn more about Noelene!

Samantha Hicks

Administrative Manager

Prior to joining the Baby Institute, Samantha worked for a Hudson Valley nonprofit in the maritime industry doing outdoor education. After moving to the Capital Region with her family, she earned an MPA from University at Albany. Recognizing the importance of early childhood education, Samantha is committed to supporting Baby Institute’s programs that help Albany’s neediest families in this most important way. When not at work, Samantha enjoys the region’s art and music opportunities and hiking with her family and dog.

Lisa Ewart

Program Coordinator
Before joining the Baby Institute, Lisa served as the Director at the Actual Art Foundation in Hudson, NY. Previously she worked as a Disaster Recovery Coordinator for a grassroots organization while simultaneously working for the Volunteer Center of Bergen County. Prior to this, Lisa held the role of Adjunct Professor in Psychology at City College of New York, providing her with firsthand insight into the challenges students face without proficiency in literacy. With a longstanding passion for community service, Lisa is enthusiastic about contributing to the mission of the Baby Institute and making a positive impact.