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March 22, 2022

At this year’s Smart Start Breakfast for Children’s Champions, Kelly Redenbaugh was named as the 2022 Children’s Champion. The Carousel Center’s Family Advocacy Team received the Starfish Public Advocacy Award (Amy Slayton, Allie Caselman, Will Steyskal, and Katelyn Currie).

Watch the 2022 Breakfast for Children’s Champions
video credit: Joey Katos, UNCW Film student

Other honorees are Traci Guerra, Dr. Karen Harum, Velva Jenkins, Clarkton Moore, Sharon Radford, and Heather Sellgren. All are individuals who have provided exceptional service to young children ages 0-5 and/or their families in New Hanover County.

Kelly Redenbaugh has been working in the childcare field for about 27 years. She has committed her career to ensuring that children in New Hanover County had access to quality and safe childcare that families can afford. Not only is she a leader at Dept of Social Services, but she is also an amazing resource for our providers, families and the community as a whole. Kelly worked with DSS leadership and her team to develop a process that allowed access to childcare assistance for many families, who otherwise would not have had a safe, reliable option. She directly supports providers and families, helps with policy development, and is willing to work in any capacity needed to ensure the children have access to care. Kelly’s nominator said, “Knowing that their children are being taken care of in a safe and loving environment, allows them to drop them off each day with a peace of mind. This allows them to then go to work or school and be the best version of themselves.”

The Family Advocacy Team at the Carousel Center are Amy Slayton, Alexandra Caselman, William Steyskal, and Katelyn Currie. This team coordinates the investigation, prosecution, and treatment of the most severe cases of child abuse in Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender Counties. Last year the Carousel Center served almost 500 children with concerns of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or had witnessed a violent crime. They work closely with The Department of Social Services and Law Enforcement to serve these families. The Family Advocates are the first to greet our children when they arrive at the Carousel Center and the last to see them when they leave, assisting the family through the entire investigation process from beginning to end. One team member said, “It is an honor to work alongside with my coworkers and stand up against child abuse in our community. The work can be heavy, stressful, seemingly nonstop! The gratitude that we receive from many of the families we serve is worth it every time.”

Each year Smart Start of NHC 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.

The keynote speaker, Dr. David Gallo, is an award-winning oceanographer and explorer. Dr. Gallo remains at the forefront of ocean exploration, participating in, being witness to and communicating the development of new technologies and scientific discoveries that shape our view of planet earth. His 2007 TED talk on “Underwater Astonishments” showing jaw-dropping footage of amazing sea creatures has been viewed more than 16 million times.

Dr. Gallo sat down with Post Session Podcast after the Breakfast to continue talking about Exploration and the Symphony of Rhythms in our world.

Each year, Smart Start of NHC celebrates and recognizes members of our community who provide exceptional service to young children and/or their families in New Hanover County during children’s first 2,000 days of life, from birth to age 5. Previous nominees have included pediatricians, early childhood educators, social workers, members of volunteer organizations, foster parents, school administrators, etc. Our Annual Breakfast for Children’s Champions will recognize all nominees.

Meet the 2022 Children’s Champion Honorees

Thanks for supporting our work with families who receive our resources, especially when they need it most!

You can make your donation today

2022 Premier Sponsor

Smart Start uses donations made toward the Breakfast to provide services for early educators, families, and children. We ask that you consider making a donation online.  To support Smart Start’s valuable work with children and families in New Hanover County, complete this donation form or access PayPal here.

Questions? email Jennifer Gallo or call 910.815.3731 x.1028

We thank our community for the continued support of our work with families and young children, especially during the pandemic that has highlighted the need for quality early care and education!

Did you know…

  • In NHC, there are an estimated 11,590 children ages birth to five years old, making up 5% of the population, who have not yet entered kindergarten.
  • Approximately 8,922 children under six in the county live in families where their sole parent or both parents are working. The need for quality child care is critical to the economic viability of these families and businesses.
  • Most families in NHC cannot afford the full cost of child care.
  • In NHC, 30% of children ages birth to 5 live in poverty.

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

Donate(link)

Meet the 2022 Children’s Champion Nominees

At a young age, Kim Ceasar decided that she would not let adversity determine her future. She knew that when she grew up, she was going to do something to help other people. In 2013, Soaring As Eagles would be her path for doing just that. What began as a weekly session for at-risk middle schoolers has grown into so much more. Today, Soaring as Eagles has programs that support young parents, a Saturday Academy that assists with elementary End Of Grade testing, and mentoring programs that work with both parents and children. In 2021, Kim developed Pre-K JumpStart to assist children entering Pre-K and Kindergarten to develop not only academic, but even more importantly, social and emotional skills. Having been a teen parent herself once, she recognizes the value of community support and is committed to providing resources that help enable healing and success to all the families she serves.

Traci Guerra has been serving children in New Hanover County for over twenty years and is the only Intensive Reunification Social Worker in the state.  She ensures the foster children on her case load have all of their needs met, including supporting the bond and attachment to their parents and working to return infants and toddlers back to their homes more quickly.  Supporting parents and their parenting skills reduces the trauma of removal and placements of the at-risk infants and toddlers.  Children long to be with their families and want to connect.  Traci’s children continue to engage with their families and safely thrive in their homes.  Traci has worked on weekends, holidays and other days off to ensure her parents get a visit or the children get to a necessary appointment. Short-term and long-term gains of reunification and reduced trauma benefit families and New Hanover County as a whole. 

Clarkton Moore has worked with children in New Hanover County for over 10 years, most recently serving, protecting, and investigating children who have been identified as being abused or neglected.  He wakes up excited to serve the community’s vulnerable population, being a voice for children who are unable to be a voice for themselves.  Clarkton earns the trust of those he works with, getting children to open up and talk about their emotions, feelings, and worries.  He has a special talent working with children and families, going over and above to provide additional needs, such as toys in the home, and finding other resourceful services in the community.  Clarkton said, “I love every day of it!”

Dr. Karen Harum is the saving grace doctor for more than 2500 southeastern children, providing holistic and medical care to children with special needs. She works endlessly to provide whole child care, listening to caregivers tell of their children’s needs, and circumstances including psychological, emotional, mental, and environmental. She takes time with each child with grace, honesty, loyalty, and love.  Dr. Harum is the pediatrician who a ragged mother can call at 2 am, and she will answer, patiently give direction, and see the baby in the morning. She goes above and beyond to hear and understand what is happening with children.  As a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, Dr. Harum is top in her field and sought out from parents as far as the west coast. She exceeds even her high level of brilliance with compassionate care and understanding. Dr. Harum says, “It is an honor to lift burdens from those suffering and I will never lose hope for the ability of these kids to improve, to heal.”

Katelyn Currie goes above and beyond with every age group of children she sees, but especially for the littlest ones in her role as a Child Therapist and Family Advocate with the Carousel Center. These children and their families are often coming in for their appointments dysregulated, upset, or worried, and in the moments, Katelyn plays with the child, putting them more at ease.  Her nominator has often seen Katelyn roaring in the play therapy room to help them express their feelings or crawling through the halls with her kids to help them transition at the end of sessions. Katelyn not only spends endless amounts of time with the kids but also their caregivers to make sure they have the skills and resources to help their littles at home after trauma. Katelyn does all this with a smile on her face and a childlike sense of hope. “Each day when I come into my job, I know that I have a unique opportunity to support children and their families in a variety of ways, and to meet them and their needs exactly where they are.”

For the last 25 plus years, Sharon Radford has given her whole heart to students, parents, peers, UNCW interns, school administrators, community members, fellow church congregants, young mothers & moms to be, and her family. While still working for New Hanover Country Public Schools, she single-handedly spearheaded a tutoring program with Christ Community Church to provide additional tutoring for English Language Learners.  Sharon has followed her calling to become the Children’s Ministry Director, mentoring future educators, providing transportation, WiFi, tutoring and meals to support families.  She has developed programs to reach children and families where they are.  Her program Mothers of Little Ones is a group of mothers who meet bi-monthly with topics and activities to help moms develop community. When one of these mothers faced a family health emergency, Sharon slept on their sofa to provide safe childcare to the young children at home.  This is just one example of the importance Sharon places on building meaningful relationships with the people she cares for. “When those relationships are built, things happen. People need to be able to depend on one another. That’s the greatest gift we can give.”

All of Heather Sellgren’s volunteer work and paid employment over the past 25 years has centered around causes that benefit young children in New Hanover County. Most recently, she has been the Director of The Children’s Museum of Wilmington and has been able to use this role to advocate for and improve the lives of children in our community.  During the shut-down, she quickly organized free lunch drives for children and produced an online program to make the Museum accessible for families at home to continue to enhance children’s learning experience.  Heather’s mission is to connect with the community and to increase inclusivity and accessibility, by developing free and reduced fee admission opportunities and making sensory adjustments to the Museum’s activities.  She leads her team towards becoming more accessible to the community every day, striving to accommodate the needs of all guests by providing financial, physical, emotional, and intellectual access in a welcoming and safe environment.

Velva Jenkins is a steadfast champion for young children as Executive Director of the YWCA Lower Cape Fear.  She carries the message of the First 2000 Days across her community.  Velva engages employers about the importance of young children having a strong start to support academic and career success.   She is an advocate for the relationship between early childhood development and economic prosperity, motivating employers to be family-friendly, all with the aim to health and well-being of young children.  She also advocates for public policy so that more families have access to high-quality and for equitable and affordable early learning programs in our community. Velva states, “It’s critically important to support mothers and families to ensure that children have a strong foundation – educational opportunity, access to basic needs, and a sense of security.”

The Family Advocacy Team at the Carousel Center are Amy Slayton, Alexandra Caselman, William Steyskal, and Katelyn Currie.  This team coordinates the investigation, prosecution, and treatment of the most severe cases of child abuse in Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender Counties. Last year the Carousel Center served almost 500 children with concerns of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or had witnessed a violent crime. They work closely with The Department of Social Services and Law Enforcement to serve these families. The Family Advocates are the first to greet our children when they arrive at the Carousel Center and the last to see them when they leave, assisting the family through the entire investigation process from beginning to end.  One team member said, “It is an honor to work alongside with my coworkers and stand up against child abuse in our community. The work can be heavy, stressful, seemingly nonstop! The gratitude that we receive from many of the families we serve is worth it every time.”

We thank our nominees and our community for the continued support of our work with families and young children!

Did you know…

  • In NHC, there are an estimated 11,590 children ages birth to five years old, making up 5% of the population, who have not yet entered kindergarten.
  • Approximately 8,922 children under six in the county live in families where their sole parent or both parents are working. The need for quality child care is critical to the economic viability of these families and businesses.
  • Most families in NHC cannot afford the full cost of child care.
  • In NHC, 30% of children ages birth to 5 live in poverty.

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

Questions? email Jennifer Gallo or call 910.815.3731 x.1028

Donate(link)

We thank our community for the continued support of our work with families and young children, especially during the pandemic that has highlighted the need for quality early care and education!

Did you know…

  • In NHC, there are an estimated 11,590 children ages birth to five years old, making up 5% of the population, who have not yet entered kindergarten.
  • Approximately 8,922 children under six in the county live in families where their sole parent or both parents are working. The need for quality child care is critical to the economic viability of these families and businesses.
  • Most families in NHC cannot afford the full cost of child care.
  • In NHC, 30% of children ages birth to 5 live in poverty.

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