Honoring Early Childhood Champions

The NRV is home to extraordinary teachers, human service providers, healthcare providers, and advocates who work tirelessly to meet the needs of our young children and their families. These professionals put their passion and expertise to work in ways that support our entire region. First Steps recognizes these amazing individuals and teams annually through the Early Childhood Champion Awards. We select five award recipients overall, including three honorees, one runner-up, and one early childhood champion of the year. Each receives a cash prize made possible by the Community Foundation.


Shannon Marshall Mury

2022 Champion of the Year

Shannon is a mentor teacher at the Virginia Tech Child Development Center for Learning & Research. Five people nominated her. Her supervisor said: “Shannon’s dedication to the children, families, her colleagues and our program in its entirety is both inspiring and invigorating.”

“Winning this award means so much to me. I am proud of the work we do as early childhood educators and hope to inspire future educators to enter this very important field,” said Shannon. “The work we do lays the foundation for how a child learns throughout their lives.”


Leslie Blevins Graham

2021 Champion of the Year

Leslie Blevins Graham, the lead preschool teacher at Imagination Station in Pearisburg, is the 2021 Early Childhood Champion of the Year. She was nominated by both parents and coworkers who describe her as “amazing, compassionate, and hard working.”

One friend and coworker summed up the sentiment in all of the nominations by writing, “Leslie is by a far a champion in all of our eyes here at the Imagination Station. She goes above and beyond for her children and coworkers. She is a great teacher and friend and deserves all the recognition.”

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