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2021 Champion Award Winners

March 30th, 2021 | Posted in Community, Education, Press Release, Uncategorized, WECT

At this morning’s virtual Smart Start Breakfast for Children’s Champions, Joyce Spears was named as the 2021 Children’s Champion. Dr. Skip Johnstone received the Starfish Public Advocacy Award.

Other honorees who have gone above and beyond to serve young children and their families in New Hanover County are Katy Bell, Elizabeth Schuett, Scott Robinette, LeeAnne Quattrucci, Alethea Jenkins, Jennifer Walton, and Sherl Johnson.

Learn more about our 2021 Children’s Champion Honorees

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Joyce Spears is making sure that our community’s children are well cared for far into the future. As an instructor of Early Childhood Education at Cape Fear Community College she encourages and guides her students so that they are well prepared to engage with young children and their families in a positive, caring, and supportive manner in their own childcare classrooms. Her nominator says that not only is she a caring, nurturing, and fun-loving instructor herself, but she goes the extra mile to arrange for students to visit agencies in the community and invites local members of the early childhood education community to speak in her classes. Her aim is to teach her students about available advocacy resources and to make important connections with others in the early childhood education, in addition to the typical classroom training. She doesn’t just teach college students; she helps build impactful careers.

Dr. Skip Johnstone
Dr. Johnstone is more than just an Obstetrician Gynecologist. He is the founder of The Tides, a nonprofit designed to help expectant mothers with Opioid Use Disorder. Their babies often struggle to survive in their first few days. Skip says, “Once upon a time, I was biased and prejudiced towards people with Opioid Use Disorder.” He began to explore why a pregnant woman would subject her unborn child to the effects of the drugs she chose to use. Skip says he learned that addiction is a neurobehavioral disease like diabetes or hypertension, and with this knowledge, his biases and prejudices faded. These new mothers face overwhelming barriers to treatment, such as poverty, lack of stable housing, violence, and mental health disorders. The Tides is a place where they can reconstruct their family unit and change the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their children.

Each year we host the annual Breakfast for Children’s Champions as an opportunity to recognize New Hanover County citizens, nominated by their peers, for their outstanding efforts on behalf of young children. Comedian DJ Pryor returned for a highly energized and entertaining presentation on the value of quality early childcare and education, especially during the pandemic.

The Smart Start Breakfast raises funds to continue important work strengthening young children in their first 2000 days of life – from parents to pediatricians and social workers to early educators. Please visit Smart Start’s website for more information or to make a donation at