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At the Smart Start Breakfast for Children’s Champions, Heather Ratliff was named as the 2023 Children’s Champion.  LeeAnne Quattrucci received the Starfish Public Advocacy Award.

Other honorees are Bonnie Harris, Karen Harum, Becky Frederick, Kendra Kellermann, Max Nunez, and Tiffany Salter. All are individuals who have provided exceptional service to young children ages 0-5 and/or their families in New Hanover County.

Heather Ratliff has been the director of the Child Development Center, serving children with developmental delays for 22 years.  At the CDC children are provided an inclusive setting with access to licensed teachers and therapists.  No matter the issue, from children with cerebral palsy to severe autism to children with trauma histories, Heather makes sure every child receives the services they need. She says watching a child grow in confidence is all the motivation she needs for her job.  Under her tenure, she helped over 500 children to move into kindergarten with fewer special needs services, than when they started the CDC preschool program.

LeeAnne Quattrucci is described as relentless in her goal to obtain safety and permanence for children in our community.  One of her two nominators says there is no child left in limbo when LeeAnne is assigned to them. Her second nominator says her specialty is securing children loving & appropriate homes in their first 2,000 days. LeeAnne has been with Guardian Ad Litem for almost 13 years and has finalized more than 800 adoptions.  She also works outside of GAL, mentoring elementary school students and teaching at UNCW.  LeeAnne puts her beliefs into practice – she and her husband have adopted to daughters who are now young women.

Each year Smart Start of New Hanover County hosts 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.

While the Breakfast serves as a wonderful opportunity for us to highlight the great work that professionals are doing on behalf of children and families in our area, it is also serves as our biggest fundraising activity and the main generator of private dollars.

Meet the 2023 Nominees

Becky Frederick, RN-BSN is a pediatric nurse with 18 years of experience starting in the Neonatal Intensive Care.  Becky now works with “older” children – the three- to five-year-olds at Johnston Pre-K.  As a school nurse she does it all – from acute care to managing chronic conditions like asthma, seizures, or diabetes to collaborating with doctor’s, school staff, and parents to ensure all heath needs are met.  Her nominator highlighted her extra efforts to host a Happy Health Day which took enormous effort and extraordinary collaborations.  Children got vision and dental screenings, support for nutrition services, and lead testing.  Her nominator says Becky is a dedicated professional with great teamwork skills.

Bonnie Harris joined Communities In Schools of Cape Fear ‘ nearly 13 years ago as a teen mother in the Smart Start funded parent support program she now coordinates. Her nominator says Bonnie is warm, welcoming, funny, intelligent, and a true role model.  Bonnie says she was privileged to be a participant in the program and received a tremendous amount of encouragement and support to deal with isolation and postpartum depression.  Bonnie says, I do this work because I know how much it is needed. I pour as much as possible into these young families; I love supporting them and watching them grow, change, and evolve.

Karen Harum, MD is a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, works with children on the autism spectrum.  70-80% of her patient caseload has a complex special needs diagnosis accompanied with chronic medical and/or behavioral/mental health cases.  Her nominator says the most inspiring thing about her is her ability to have faith in healing even the most broken of children and to fight for her patients even as they experience setbacks.  In her work she builds new and evidence-based therapies for this unique population. Dr. Harum says, when you see a child regress into autism and then use novel treatments to recover them – you’re hooked on helping every kid possible. This is not my career, it’s my obsession.

Max Nunez has been serving young children and their families in our community as a children’s librarian with the Public Library for 15 years.  His nominator says she is impressed with his commitment, that he goes out of his way to learn the name of each child and help them feel welcome which has meant a lot to her shy daughter.  His taking time to say hi each time we come has really helped her feel welcome and participate more. She also says Max strives to be inclusive and diverse in the books he chooses as well as frequently using Spanish and ASL in his story times.  Max has been able to read over 5,000 books to 50,000 children during his tenure.

Kendra Kellermann is a Family Nurse Practitioner with The Carousel Center.  She has taken every opportunity to expand her knowledge and get specialized training to best serve the children who she sees. Her nominator says Kendra searches out new skills and looks deeply into our cases.  She was a trusted, strong, soft spoken member of the multidisciplinary team who uses every tool in her toolbox to support children and families and works for all survivors to have a voice.  Kendra says she is motivated in her difficult work because her role allows her to be part of the protection of children in New Hanover County, something all children deserve.

Tiffany Salter, a clinical supervisor with Coastal Horizon’s Child First program,  mentors and supports direct service staff and newer professionals.  The reflective supervision she provides support courageous conversations and helps staff learn the balance of integrating the science of evidence-based therapeutic practices with the art of adapting to the unique needs and strengths of each family.   Tiffany believes that it is our unnegotiable responsibility to advocate for children’s very best care in all matters.  She works to make sure that all information is presented in ways that are digestible and helpful to a child’s circumstances and that the adults in their lives also speak the same language to continue to promote children’s wellbeing.

Questions? email Jennifer Gallo or call 910.815.3731 x.1028

Smart Start of New Hanover County envisions every child entering school with the health, family support and early education necessary to succeed.