First Steps honors early childhood champions


First Steps, an initiative of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley, celebrates 19 early childhood educators and advocates who impact young children in the New River Valley every day.

First Steps is a network of over 60 New River Valley organizations that support young children and families through education, child care, health care, advocacy and more . For the second year, the initiative hosted the Early Childhood Champion Awards, which brought together nearly 100 people at Omni Place in Fairlawn to celebrate and draw attention to the critical importance of early childhood care and education. childhood.

“We hope these awards shine a light on the incredible hearts that are building the brains of our next generation,” said Katie Thompson, director of the Radford Early Learning Center and member of the First Steps leadership team. “We recognize that men and women in this field often burn their candles at both ends to make sure others shine brightly. So we wanted to recognize, celebrate and uplift this workforce.

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At the event, speakers highlighted the work of First Steps and the ripple effect that affordable, quality child care has on the entire community. This message was further underscored in a video message from the presidents of New River Community College (Pat Huber), Radford University (Bret Danilowicz) and Virginia Tech (Tim Sands), who celebrated early childhood champions and highlighted the importance of quality child care services to the region’s economy and quality of life.

The 19 nominees received a total of 34 nominations from colleagues and parents. Six nominees were selected as this year’s winners and received CFNRV cash prizes. Shannon Marshall Mury of Virginia Tech’s Center for Child Development Learning and Research won the top prize, Early Childhood Champion of the Year 2022.

“Winning this award means so much to me,” said Mury, who is a mentor teacher at VTCDCLR. “I am proud of the work we do as early childhood educators and hope to inspire future educators to enter this very important field. The work we do lays the foundation for how a child learns throughout their life. »

This year’s second Early Childhood Champion is Bonnie Graham of New River Community College, where she is a teacher and program manager for social services and early childhood education. Additionally, First Steps recognized one team and two individual winners: Bonnie Caldwell and Ben Rowan from Rainbow Riders Knollwood Site, Chelsea Naughton Sharlow from the Heart N’Hand Early Learning Center, and Judy Shelor from the Valley Interfaith Child Care Center.

The other 2022 nominees were:

  • Tonya Cook, Books Coordinator at Reading is Fun in Floyd
  • Michelle Crowder, preschool teacher at Kindercare
  • Lori Dobbins, Office Administrator at Radford Head Start
  • Alea Lacoste, lead teacher in the Blue Room at the Virginia Tech Child Development Center for Learning and Research
  • Carol Martin, Executive Director of Building Bridges Child Development Center
  • Resa Mattson, program coordinator at the June Bug Center
  • Courtney McClaughtery, director of child care at Giles Health and Family Center
  • Sheila Morrison, Station Manager Imagination
  • Linda Pospichal, first grade teacher at Blacksburg New School
  • Marin Riegger, manager of the Little Hokie Hangout at Virginia Tech
  • Stefi Schafer, early childhood educator at Blue Mountain School
  • Brittany Dixon Weber, head teacher at Radford Early Learning Center
  • Jessica Wirgau, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley

Nominations for the 2023 awards will open next spring. For more information on getting started, go to To support or get involved in the work of First Steps, please contact Jessica Wirgau at or 540-381-8999.

– Submitted by Lindsey R. Gleason


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