A Fond Farewell from Georgia Mjartan - SC First Steps

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A Fond Farewell from Georgia Mjartan

After six and a half years leading Ƶ, I am stepping down from my role as agency director on June 28th to become the CEO of Central Carolina Community Foundation. My last day is also First Steps’ 25th anniversary, a time of celebration and reflection, where we, as an organization, are thinking about the journey of impact we have all been on together. What an honor to have been a part of the story of First Steps, to have impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of young children, and to have worked together with families, legislators, board leaders, and our incredible team.

When I came to First Steps in 2017, there were clear goals we established together – to be a permanent agency, to dramatically expand our reach, and to build a cohesive and coordinated early childhood system with children and families at the center of every decision.

I am so grateful for what we have been able to accomplish for the children of South Carolina.With the passage of legislation unanimously approved by every member of the SC House and Senate, Ƶ is now a permanent state agency.

Together, we have built an organization with tremendous reach impacting the lives of 55,000 children every year, more than double our reach from just five years ago. As a state agency and nonprofit, we have embraced our unique status as a public private partnership and have grown our budget with annual state increases in recurring funds, private philanthropic support, competitive federal grants, and support from other partnering agencies. Our budget of $80 million annually is more than double what it was just five years ago, fueling our increased impact on children and families.

First Steps 4K is now statewide, serving whole families including siblings and parents, and offering enrollment the summer before and after the 4K school year.Our local partnerships have expanded their offerings to include clinic-based programs, targeted support to families engaged with child welfare, and peer-based parenting programs.

The impact of our work is being measured and evaluated in new and more meaningful ways, both by external researchers and through an organizational commitment to listening and learning from families and providers. By responding to the needs of families, we have created first-in-the-nation innovations like First5SC, which is transforming the way our public early childhood system is working for families and is offering a model for the rest of the country.

We deepened partnerships with our sister agencies, established the Early Childhood Advisory Council with funding and staff, became known in new ways in the community, launched websites, created a mascot, and secured tens of millions of dollars in grant funds to fuel our work. ESSER, PDG, Pritzker, Packard, Alliance for Early Success, The Duke Endowment and Doris Duke Foundation all became household names among our First Steps family.

In addition to permanent authorization for First Steps, we championed paid leave for state employees, led the charge to address the problem of preschool suspension and expulsion, and garnered bipartisan support for First Steps resulting in more recurring state dollars being added to our budget than ever before in the history of our organization.

Over the last six and a half years, we have welcomed babies into our workplace, moved to a new building, grown to a team of over 100 people, learned how to have robust board meetings remotely, encouraged each other through the challenges of COVID, connected at retreats and holiday parties, and danced the night away while raising money for our local partnerships.

This week, our team came together to celebrate the 25th anniversary with a big event, to produce a convening of hundreds of local partnership board members and executive directors, and to finalize plans for the new fiscal year. We also took time to pray for healing for a colleague, to listen to the stories of the families we serve, and to celebrate and appreciate each other. The closing speaker at our convening today said it perfectly. “Mission first, but people always.”

To the people who have become my First Steps family, thank you.

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Georgia Mjartan

Georgia Mjartan is the executive director of Ƶ and the South Carolina Early Childhood Advisory Council.

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