Dear colleagues and friends,
As a valued partner in our community’s early childhood work, we are sharing with you the news that Annemarie Valdez has decided to step down as President of First Steps Kent for personal reasons. While we are sad to see her leave the organization, we are profoundly grateful for her leadership over the last six-and-a-half years.
During her tenure Annemarie has been a champion for systems integration in early childhood, centering equity and inclusion in all of First Steps’ work. She has garnered support from the philanthropic community and earned the respect of service providers and systems-level organizations here in Kent County and around the state and nation. Under Annemarie’s leadership, First Steps has become one of the first places elected officials and policymakers turn on issues that impact young children and their families.
Annemarie’s successes are many, but there are two that stand out. The first is the work to support child care providers and strengthen the early care and education industry. The Shared Services pilot project stepped up at a critical time at the beginning of the pandemic, helping child care providers secure resources and navigate uncertainty and disruptions. The other, of course, is the approval and implementation of the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage, the realization of a dream decades in the making. Over the last three years, community-based organizations have been awarded about $20 million to provide critical early childhood services to families across Kent County.
Annemarie shared the following about her decision and her future plans: “The past two years have been difficult for everyone but have also provided a chance for thought and reflection. I am not sure what lies ahead for me, but I want the opportunity to hit pause and further reflect on life. It has been a true pleasure leading First Steps as we have reached milestones and celebrated triumphs that will ensure early childhood remains at the forefront in Kent County and West Michigan. Each of you has made an impact on this work and on me personally. I am proud of what we have accomplished together and wish you continued success.”
Annemarie’s last day will be May 6. The First Steps Kent Board of Commissioners has put together a search committee and is already beginning the process of finding the organization’s next leader. Thanks to the exceptional First Steps staff, we are well poised to keep the organization running effectively should there be a gap between Annemarie’s departure and the start of a new president.
Please join us in thanking Annemarie for the commitment, passion, and humility she has shared in her service to First Steps and the children of Kent County.
Kate Pew Wolters and Lew Chamberlin
First Steps Kent Commission Co-chairs