2023 Early Childhood Champions

Honoring Champions for the 3rd Year in a Row

First Steps recognizes individuals and teams serving young children and families 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. Check out the 2023 awardees and nominees below.

2023 Early Childhood Champion of the Year

Angie Muncy

Angie is the owner and director at Milestones Childcare in Floyd, which she opened in 2009. Eight people nominated her. A parent said, “There is no question that my son is ready for the next step in his education because of the program Angie has built…she is a dedicated and talented early childhood educator who has made a significant impact on the lives of young children and their families.”

A former employee said, “Angie is constantly striving to improve on her center, her staff’s knowledge of early childhood education, and her own interactions with the children in her care. She is a constant pillar of support for staff and families and makes an effort to make all of the children in her center feel seen and loved. She projects warmth and positivity and endures through any and all challenges. Angie is a true blessing to the children, staff, and families of Milestones Childcare.”

2023 Runner-Up & Honorees

Oma McReynolds, Runner Up

Oma is a family consultant at Intercept Youth. A former client said, “Because of Oma and her knowledge, support, and compassion our family is intact. We credit her for the restoration of our family and will forever be grateful for her
consistent, dedicated and empathic investment in us.”

Headshot of Kayden Appea, assistant teacher at Virginia Tech's Child Development Center for Learning & Research

Kaydan Appea, Honoree

Kaydan Appea is an assistant teacher at the Virginia Tech Child Development Center for Learning and Research. Her supervisor said, “Kaydan gravitates towards the children that many are challenged by. As a high schooler, she is already a highly talented educator with the potential to impact the field in positive ways for many years.”

Sidney Nelson, Honoree

Sidney is an assistant director at KinderCare. Her partner said, “Sidney never stops caring about her students. Seeing the dedication she gives parents and students when dropping off my son as they see her yelling, ‘Ms. Sidney!’ She wants to support little minds and advocate for teachers and students to grow.”

Headshot Stefi Schafer, alead teacher at Blue Mountain School.

Stefi Schafer, Honoree

Stefi is a lead teacher at Blue Mountain School. Her former colleague said, “In roughly 30 years of early childhood teaching and care, Stefi has never wavered from giving the children in her care deep respect, steeped in the faith that children are capable collaborators in their own learning process.”

2023 Nominees

Lisa Bass

Lisa is a preschool program instructor at Christiansburg Parks and Recreation. Her supervisor said, “Lisa has dedicated her 26 years of experience working with preschool age children to ready them for entering primary/elementary school, influencing the lives of hundreds of children. She is an invaluable instructor for us.”

Christi Caldwell

Christi is a preschool teacher at Pearisburg Head Start. A colleague said, “Christi always has the best interest and well-being of the children in her care at heart. She is very patient and compassionate and deals with daily challenges in a thoughtful and confident way.”

Headshot of Emily Gruver, Board President of The June Bug Center

Emily Gruver

Emily is the board president of the June Bug Center (JBC.) Her coworker said, “Emily is dedicated to the JBC and her community. Emily teaches classes, volunteers and instructs private lessons to kids at the JBC. As the former director of JBC, she created much of the curriculum we use today.”

Headshot of Kysha Marshall is a teacher at Virginia Tech Child Development Center for Learning and Research

Kysha Marshall

Kysha is a teacher at Virginia Tech Child Development Center for Learning and Research. Her supervisor said, “Kysha takes the time to learn about every child’s strengths and challenges and she plans an intentional curriculum that considers every child’s interests, abilities and development.”

Resa Mattson

Resa is a program coordinator at June Bug Center. Her colleague said, “Resa is an outstanding program coordinator. She has an excellent rapport with children. She always puts children’s safety and needs first and does a wonderful job engaging kids.”

Chesley Mercado

Chesley teaches at The June Bug Center. A colleague said, “She helped create one of our newest programs, ‘Little Ear Worms’, that introduces young children to music, rhythm, and dance. She instructs the 12-week course every fall and spring and also does a summer camp. The children adore her as do we.”

Chelsea Naughton

Chelsea is the director of Heart ‘n’ Hand Early Learning Center. Her husband wrote, “Chelsea has built the BEST daycare around from the ground up and now is one of the most recommended daycares in the area. She truly care about her center’s kids.”

Linda Naughton

Linda is the owner of and teacher at Heart ‘n’ Hand Early Learning Center. Her daughter said, “Linda has dedicated her life to helping children learn and grow. She is always coming up with creative ways to learn and working on something for her classroom. She creates such a special bond with the children in her care.”

Dawn Sullivan

Dawn runs Sullivan Family Day Home. A parent said, “Dawn has watched both of my children since birth. They love it there and I get lots of updates and pictures of them learning and having fun.”

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