National News

Perigee Fund, new philanthropy for early childhood mental health, names David Willis first executive director

Perigee Fund announced David Willis, M.D., as its first executive director. Launched in 2017, the new philanthropy promotes the healthy social and emotional development of babies and toddlers.

“Dr. Willis has been a champion of young children and their families for decades,” Perigee Fund founder Lisa Mennet, Ph.D., said. “His work as a pediatrician, as a proponent of early childhood mental health, and as a builder of systems and policy at the national level made him an ideal candidate in our nationwide search.”

Dr. Willis was a clinician in Oregon for more than 30 years with a practice focused on early childhood development and family therapy. Most recently, he served as director of the Division of Home Visiting and Early Childhood Services at the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal Child Health Bureau.

“It’s been my life’s work to promote the social and emotional development of our youngest children and help them build the foundations for lifelong health and social well-being,” Dr. Willis said. “I’m honored and excited to be joining the Perigee Fund.”

During his career, Dr. Willis also has been a Harris Mid-Career Fellow with childhood development nonprofit ZERO TO THREE; the past president of the Oregon Pediatric Society; an executive member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Early Education and Child Care; and chair of the AAP’s Board’s Early Brain & Child Development Strategic Initiative.

Perigee Fund seeks to expand access to infant and early childhood mental health care and to strengthen supports for parents and caregivers who are foundational to children’s development. The Fund also aims to promote relational health for all infants and young children, which contributes to their growing ability to trust in others and form positive relationships. The Fund will partner with child health, early education, childcare, and family support communities in Washington State, the Northwest, and throughout the country to improve social and emotional development for children prenatally to age five.

The cumulative stress on families caused by social inequities can be particularly damaging for child development. Research shows early support and strong relationships are especially critical for infants and young children affected by trauma, racism, and poverty. Perigee Fund believes that a focus on healthy social and emotional development is one of the best opportunities to advance equity across our society.

Perigee Fund was founded by Dr. Mennet, clinical director of Cooper House in Seattle. As a therapist to families and children, a clinical educator, and a mentor to early childhood professionals, she has witnessed not only the challenges that come with a lack of programming and resources but, more importantly, the powerful impact early childhood supports can have in changing a child’s developmental trajectory.

# # #

About Perigee Fund

Perigee Fund is a new national philanthropic endeavor, based in Seattle, advancing work in the field of early childhood mental health. By providing nurturing, responsive care during early childhood, and by buffering young children from excessive stress, parents and other caregivers can support the neural pathways that contribute to children’s growing ability to trust in others, manage strong emotions, communicate, and learn. These skills, acquired in the earliest years, are highly predictive of later academic, economic, and social success.




To Top