Educational First Steps (EFS), whose mission is to improve the availability of quality early childhood education for economically disadvantaged children, held its fifth annual One Childhood One Chance luncheon on Friday, November 17. The keynote speaker was Sonia Manzano, who inspired, educated and delighted children and families as “Maria” on Sesame Street for many decades.
WFAA anchor Cynthia Izaguirre emceed and welcomed guests including many elected officials and VIPs in attendance. Co-chairs Merry Munson Wyatt, Kathryn Munson Beach and Meg Munson McGonigle spoke next. Beach said, “By partnering with existing daycare centers and preschools in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in North Texas, Educational First Steps is leading the charge to ensure that quality education is available for the youngest children in our community.”
Wyatt said, “We would like to dedicate today’s luncheon in honor of our great Uncle, David Munson, Sr., co-founder and life member of Educational First Steps.” She also thanked the honorary co-chairs, their cousins and Munson’s sons, David Jr., Charles and John Munson, the sponsors, host committee and EFS staff.
McGonigle said, “After you learn more about what EFS does, we hope you’ll be touched and help us with a gift to honor this extraordinary organization.” Then, she introduced Texas State Senator Don Huffines who gave a special resolution to the organization.
Next, while the Sesame Street theme song played, Manzano walked in with the Braswell Child Development Center children, who gave the opening prayer. Earlier that morning, she read to the children.
After lunch, John Breitfeller, retiring executive director, spoke. “Educational First Steps writes a happier tale for children who most need our help. As I retire, Van Sheets will succeed me and continue our work to help children achieve their potential.”
Attendees watched a moving video, and Vicente Delgado, Jr. director of Nueva Vida Day Care Center, talked about being extraordinary. “Through EFS, I see extraordinary people working tirelessly to guide and mentor teachers like myself to see beyond themselves.”
Keynote speaker and child advocate Manzano spoke about her upbringing in a low-income neighborhood in the South Bronx but how, despite her limited economic means, she loved and excelled in school. She spoke of teachers who believed in her abilities and encouraged her to audition for the High School of Performing Arts, which led to her attending Carnegie Mellon University on a scholarship. In her junior year, she went to New York to star in the original production of Godspell, and within a year, she joined Sesame Street, where she began a lifelong career that garnered 15 Emmy Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award. Now retired, she’s written her memoirs and children’s books. Manzano encourage the attendees to pour into children at an early age and applauded the work that EFS does.
Thanks in part to funds raised from this luncheon, EFS partners with 93 daycare centers in at-risk neighborhoods, carrying out a results-driven program for becoming nationally accredited preschools, at no cost to the centers, teachers or parents. The program helps centers progress from daycares providing little more than babysitting to nationally accredited early education centers that become anchors in their neighborhoods by preparing more children for school and life success. About 6,000 at-risk children ages birth to 5 years old are receiving quality early education because of EFS’ investment.
EFS, which started in south Dallas, has grown to serve Tarrant, Denton, Johnson, Collin and Grayson counties, collaborating across 22 school districts. They are continually pushing the boundaries and aggressively scaling programs to place more students in quality learning environments. For more information, visit http://educationalfirststeps.org/ or call 214.824.7940.