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Florence County First Steps holds "drive-by" for families and providers

Due to COVID-19, Florence County First Steps (FCFS) waived their annual educational in-person meeting and held a “drive-by” on December 15, 2020 for 16 families receiving day care scholarships and 9 family day care providers, coordinated by Program Coordinators, Lana Hopkins and Anastasia Spann. Families and providers received toys that stimulate child development as well as gift bags for their participation. Acknowledging the risk of our frontline educators, FCFS provided personal protective equipment such as masks and sanitizer in efforts to assist them to remain safe amidst the pandemic.  

Executive Director, Spencer R. Scott stated, “As the pandemic shut down majority of in-person services in March, we had to find innovative ways to keep connected to our families and childcare community. Most of our work involves gathering people, so that has definitely been a major change in or work. “The day we went remote, we really focused on finding the most effective way to service and protect our most vulnerable to the coronavirus.”

Beginning in 1999, the goal of FCFS is to prepare children of Florence County for school and has several initiatives in place to make this goal happen. Childcare Scholarships are distributed to qualified low-income households that are working or going to school. “According to Scott, this helps three-fold: It provides parents an opportunity to work or continue going to school to obtain a two or four year degree, it allows a child to be in an educational environment for 8 hours of the day and gives employers an employee who's working and not concerned about their child not being in a safe or educational environment.”

There are also Technical Assistance (TA) and Quality Enhancement (QE) programs to ensure that providers and child cares facilities are giving the best care to families who attend the facilities. Virtual child care Trainings, which are set to start back in January 2021, allow providers to earn mandatory SC Department of Social Service credit hours.

If you would like to donate to this cause, please visit to donate. You may also mail a check to 415 South Coit Street, Florence SC 29501. We are also looking for board members who are passionate about our cause and want to be a part of our mission.



Youngsters graduate from First Steps's Family and Group Childcare Home

Florence and Marion Childcare Network Association (FMCNA) held its 2019 Family and Group Childcare Home Graduation Ceremony on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation Library, Florence SC. FMCNA is fund by a contract from SC DSS, Division of Early Care and Education through Florence County First Steps Partnership Board (FCFS).

The ceremony began with Spencer R. Scott, Executive Director, welcoming the audience. Scott stressed the importance of parents and their enthusiasm for their children’s education. "These kids are a blank slate, so they can become whatever they want to be. With your encouragement, they can do it,” Scott remarked. He mentioned that his own children inspire him and told the audience that “your kids may inspire you to go back to school. I love the idea of us [parents] continuing our education while our kids are in school. It will inspire and motivate our kids and we’re all flourishing together.”

Debra Session, Program Manager with the SC DSS-Division of Early Care and Education, spoke about the 10 Year Anniversary of working in partnership with Florence and Marion County First Steps to provide support for the quality enhancement initiative for family and group childcare providers in both counties.  Over the past ten years the partnership has continued to thrive, and they remain committed to providing support to enhance program quality, operations, and leadership.

The graduates of 2019 then entered the room. Tristan O’Leary of Echols Family Daycare, Joy James of Ross Family Childcare Home, Serenity Rowell of Thompson Family Childcare Home, and Harmony Fulton, Kaydence Gibson, and Max Hickman all of Denise Scott Family Childcare Home were the graduates.

FCFS then gave recognition to the 2019 Family Childcare Provider of the Year winner. Mrs. Gracie McLeod, the winner, received a gift card, $250 Kaplan Gift Certificate and a yard sign announcing the winner.

Carletta Isreal, County Partnership Senior Consultant of South Carolina First Steps, then gave the commencement speech. Isreal discussed the importance of education and discussed the “summer slide,” where reading and academic achievements decrease (or ‘slide’) during the summer. “These are opportunities to take every moment as a teachable moment, because [summer] is a time where they can relax, but you can really spend that meaningful time talking, communicating, and educating your kids on something that’s totally new.” She also stressed to parents the need to be mindful in what they say or do, because children are always watching and listening. She concluded her speech with giving names of organizations that have resources to continue reading achievement in the summer.

The ceremony ended with 2019 graduates going on the stage and receiving a certificate and a backpack. After the ceremony, a reception was held for the graduates and their family and friends.

Elonda Blyther: 2019 Center Childcare Provider of the Year

Florence County First Steps awarded Ms. Elonda Blyther with the 2019 Center Childcare Provider of the Year Award. Ms. Blyther is the Director of Sunshine House Early Learning Academy in Florence, SC and has been in the early childhood field for 21 years. She earned an Associate in Early Childhood Education and is currently working on a Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies. From an early age, Ms. Blyther knew that she wanted to be an educator; her mother—who started out as an early childcare educator but did not stick with it—was her biggest inspiration. “My mother was my biggest influence as she started her career as an educator of young children. Seeing her passion in how she worked with her students sent the desire to me. Even though her final service was taking care of the elderly, it still bridges her purpose of taking care of others which left a permanent spot etched in my heart for ensuring quality care.”

Ms. Blyther’s facility focuses on children's education, accomplishments, growth, and development. Activities are done in small group settings as well as individually. Ms. Blyther says that watching the children’s different growth stages and seeing the children blossom and develop is by far the biggest reward. Although rewarding, it does have challenges. The foremost challenge that Ms. Blyther finds is “bridging the gap” between early childhood and the transition to the public or private school sector. “A lot of times, [children] come from this nurturing environment of love and care, and once they get to school, they hear ‘let’s sit down,’ ‘let’s be quiet,’ and we have a more hands-on environment.” Ms. Blyther states that she is working on making sure that the children who attend her facility are well-equipped for making the transition.

The best advice that Ms. Blyther can give for those who aspire to be in the early childhood field is to love what you do. She says, “Many children are in the care of someone other than their parents for most of their waking hours; so if those individuals are not passionate and see their importance then we do a huge disservice to children and the world.” Ms. Blyther feels that as long as an individual has passion for what they do, they will do fine and go far. “The road has been tough but the outcome has been great! I am in love with being an educator. I will continue to extend my love of learning by teaching others to love learning. My visions and plans have been a huge part of the accomplishments I have today! Most importantly, the people that have rallied in my corner keep me grounded. I am, and I will continue to make a difference because I am walking in my purpose as an educator who leads.”

Gracie McLeod: 2019 Family Childcare Provider of the Year

Florence County First Steps awarded Gracie McLeod with the 2019 Family Childcare Provider of the Year Award. Gracie McLeod is the Director of Little Places Learning Center. McLeod is currently a student at Greenville Technical College where she is earning an Associate of Arts in Early Childcare. She stated that her love of children was her motivation for going into the early childhood field. “I joined the early childhood field because of my love for children. I love their sweet nature, their endless happy energy, and their curiosity. Children will motivate you and there is always something to learn from them; for example, their resilience,” McLeod says.

McLeod has operated Little Places Learning Center for 26 years. She has been a teacher in the early childhood field since 1990. After marriage and moving to Florence in 1993, she opened up Little Places Learning Center. This not only helped her to become an entrepreneur, but the center also allowed her the flexibility to be a stay-at-home mom and take care of her own children. A typical day at Little Places Learning Center is described as “being full of language and communication, and lots of responsive and sensitive care. [It’s] structured but loving, with plenty of developmental appropriate opportunities for discovery, literacy and early learning.”

There are many rewards that McLeod finds from her job. One is that she is always able to “move up” the ladder career-wise and appreciates being recognized and awarded by her peers for a job well done. She states that another rewarding part of the job is “watching my infants grow up with me, and watching them return to me as adults to keep their own children.” Photos from previous clients who have become family are something McLeod truly treasures. “One of the best parts of my job is when you make an impact on a family and they never forget you, and they still share their special moments with you,” McLeod says.

There are also challenges when it comes to her job. McLeod says, “One challenge I can mention would be the fact that I'm in charge of precious "cargo” so you always have to be on your Ps and Qs with them at all times. You're working with others' pride and joys so it can sometimes be a little challenging working with young children.” Helping kids achieve their full potential can also be a challenge at times, but McLeod says, “After 26 years, I'm still learning to master it. It's a challenge I’ve committed to on a daily basis.” For those who would like a career in early childhood, McLeod’s advice is that a person needs “to have a huge heart to encounter all the love [they’ll] receive, and give to the children in [their] care!”

Terrific Toddlers Baby Contest - 2018 Winners

In celebration of NAEYC's Week of the Young Child, we would again like to recognize the King and Queen of our Terrific Toddlers Baby Contest. 


Mark Keeson McClain, Jr.

Born May 23, 2018 | Son of Keyha Johnson and Mark E. McClain

Mark is has four older siblings. Even at his young age, Mark is already a huge football fan and loves going to games and watching on TV! He also loves to eat vegetables, especially his favorite, green beans.


Karleigh N. Ray

Born November 22, 2014 | Daughter of Jasmine Scott and Karl Ray

Karleigh is four-years-old and attends Communication Station Preschool. She loves gymnastics, dancing, basketball, and coloring. In addition, she loves reading with her parents and watching Mickey Mouse on YouTube. You can find her outside playing on her swing set and trampoline, or chasing around her one-year-old American Bully, Ace.



Congratulations again to our King and Queen, and we thank everyone who participated, donated, and attended our crowning ceremony. Stay tuned for the 2019 Terrific Toddlers Baby Contest! Be sure to follow us on Facebook for other upcoming events!

FY18 Annual Meeting!

FY18 Annual Meeting!

Florence County First Steps (FCFS) held its annual FY18 meeting at the Florence County Library on December 11, 2018 at 10 AM. FCFS is a non-profit that offers assistance to low-income families and helps provide financial assistance to send children to experienced day cares. FCFS’s vision is that every child in Florence County will be prepared for success in school. Executive Director Spencer R. Scott started off the meeting with an overview of last year’s accomplishments. 

Last year, FCFS provided 42 children with scholarship assistance so their parents could work or attend school with the Child Care Scholarship Program. The Child Care Training Program provided 27 early childhood staff with high quality training, and 366 children across 17 programs had access to teachers that were trained through FCFS. The Quality Enhancement program provided $5,967 in materials grants to participating childcare providers. Finally, the Parenting Program served 45 children and 45 families. 1,450 hours were spent in homes with families.

He then awarded a certificate to Katie Godwin, whose daughter, Officer Farrah Turner, was killed in the October 3rd ambush. The certificate stated that First Steps has created The Farrah Turner Scholarship Award, which will be given to a child from birth-to-three years of age who meets the First Steps requirements. The scholarship is valued at approximately $5,200 per child.

First Steps also revealed their winners for the Terrific Toddlers Baby Contest. The King was Mr. Mark Keeson McClain, Jr., son of Keyha Johnson and Mark E. McClain. The Queen was Miss Karleigh N. Ray, daughter of Jasmine Scott and Karl Ray. The King and Queen were both given a crown and will be on future promotional material for First Steps. 

Musical performances were given by Precious One Learning Center and Live Love Grow Learning Center. The meeting concluded with the Florence County Children’s Library reading several books to the children, including Pete the Cat Saves Christmas. 

For information related to Florence County First Steps, please contact Spencer R. Scott at 843-629-0202.




Funding Opportunities

Funding Opportunities

Learn about the types of programs and projects First Steps provides funding for in Florence County.

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Donate or Volunteer

With your donation, 100% of funds go back to programs. Help support programs dedicated to the healthy development of children in our community with your donation! You can also become a volunteer and help provide our youth with opportunities that will serve them for a lifetime.

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