2022 Early Childhood Champions

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 2022 awardees and nominees below.

2022 Early Childhood Champion of the Year

Shannon Marshall Mury

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.”

2022 Runner-Up & Honorees

Runner-up: Bonnie Graham

Bonnie is a Professor and the Program Head of Human Services and Early Childhood Education at New River Community College. Her colleague said: “For her entire career, Bonnie has been a passionate advocate for early childhood education and for those who choose this important profession.”

Honoree: Bonnie Caldwell & Ben Rowan

Bonnie and Ben were team teachers at Rainbow Riders Childcare Center Knollwood. This team received two nominations, with a Rainbow Riders administrator saying: “Bonnie and Ben were two of the greatest collaborators I’ve ever seen. They had a magical synergy. They could bounce ideas off each other weaving the children’s emerging interests and parent inputs as well.”

Honoree: Chelsea Naughton Sharlow

Chelsea is the Director of Heart N Hand Early Learning Center and received nine nominations. A friend said: “Chelsea loves the kids she works with. You can truly see how much she cares for every student in the building.” A colleague said, “Chelsea is always there for her teachers in her building!”

Honoree: Judy Shelor

Judy is the Center Director of Valley Interfaith Child Care Center. She received four nominations. A former board member said: “Judy is an advocate for all children. She creates a loving and nurturing environment for the children and the staff. ”

2022 Nominees

Tanya is the Book Coordinator at Reading is Fun in Floyd. Her colleague nominated her, saying: “Even with all the hats Tanya wears she always goes way beyond to make sure each child in pre-k through grade 3 in each elementary school in Floyd County receives a book from the program. During the past two years during covid when we couldn’t visit each school and present a program she single handedly made sure each child got a book.”

Michelle is a Preschool Teacher at KinderCare. Her supervisor nominated her, saying: “Ms. Shelly goes above and beyond for her students each and every day; teaching them how to better understand their emotions, showing them true patience and kindness, and meeting their individual needs with grace.”

Lori is the Office Administrator at Radford Head Start. Her nominator, a friend, said: “Lori goes above and beyond to help children and the teachers. She may have one title, but she does so much more to make sure everything is done and the kids are taken care of.”

Alea is the Lead Teacher in the Blue Room at Virginia Tech Child Development Center for Learning and Research. Her colleague nominated her, who said: “Alea is dedicated, passionate, and goes above and beyond to make the experience in the classroom the best for every single student.”

Carol is the Administrative Director at Building Bridges Child Development Center. Her employer nominated her, saying, “Carol has a deep passion for children. She strives daily to encourage a healthy and happy learning environment for the children in our community…Carol has been working in Early Childhood since 1997 and still has the same drive and passion as she did when she began.”

Resa is a Program Coordinator at the June Bug Center. Her supervisor nominated her, saying: “Resa is always advocating for our students at the June Bug Center…She is an excellent role model for the kids, and they adore her. She always makes sure to listen to their thoughts and concerns.”

Courtney is the Childcare Director at Giles Health and Family Center. Her supervisor nominated her, saying, “Courtney goes above and beyond for our families. She is always looking for ways to improve a child’s life, whether it is directly through care or indirectly by aiding their family environment.”

Sheila is the Director of the Imagination Station. An employee and friend nominated her, saying: “Sheila goes above and beyond at all times…She always makes sure that her staff and parents are always taken care of and comfortable in any situation. She has the kindest heart of any person I have ever known.”

Headshot of Linda Pospichal

Linda is a First Grade Teacher at Blacksburg New School. Her nominator, a parent of former student, said: “Linda has a unique ability to meet each child where they are, to magnify their strengths, and to show empathy and compassion. My son’s entire view of school and his ability to succeed changed with her guidance and support.”

Marin is the Director of the Little Hokie Hangout Early Education Center in Virginia Tech’s Graduate School. Her nominator, a parent, said: “Marin is incredible with these young people. She has built an incredible organization that teaches these children guiding principles for life, shows them how to be social and interact.”

Stefi is the Early Childhood Teacher at Blue Mountain School. A colleague nominated her, saying: “Stefi is a dedicated and intelligent, caring and empathetic teacher and leader. She has mentored countless families, shared resources, insights and advice. She’s impacted hundreds of children and families with joy, intelligence and devotion and integrity.”

Brittany is the Lead Teacher for two-year-old children at Radford Early Learning Center. Her colleague nominated her, saying: “Brittany cares for each child and shows them love every day. She has a relationship with every family and shows everyone kindness and respect.”

Jess is the Chief Executive Officer of Community Foundation of the New River Valley. A colleague nominated her, who said: “Jess is a leader, catalyst and advocate for the early childhood education community…Jess’ diplomatic approach has helped to bridge communities and engage community leaders for dynamic project ideas. She will say it’s all part of her job- but she truly goes above and beyond.”