First Steps names executive director


Annemarie Valdez. Courtesy First Steps

A new voice for early childhood services in Kent County is about to be heard.

First Steps in Grand Rapids, a nonprofit that works in the county to strengthen and coordinate early childhood services, said last month that it has named Annemarie Valdez its executive director, effective Sept. 8.

“First Steps is fortunate to welcome Annemarie Valdez to our community,” said Kate Pew Wolters, co-chair, First Steps Commission. “She has outstanding expertise in implementing evidence-based programs that benefit young children and strengthen families, she has been vigilant in advocating for early education improvements through systems change and she has successfully forged connections between nonprofit and business leaders. This is the approach we seek going forward.”

Valdez comes with about 20 years of experience working as an advocate for children and families.

She recently served as CEO of the Sudden Infant Death Services of Illinois.

Before that, she served as the executive director at Child’s Hope and director of Project Focus.

In 2009, she was also appointed to the Michigan Governor’s Child Welfare Improvement Taskforce.

“For most of my career, I’ve worked to expand and improve opportunities for children,” Valdez said. “I am a big believer that all children deserve to be prepared for success in school and life.

“The opportunity to lead an established early childhood organization is energizing. By linking arms with all key stakeholders in Kent County, we will have the power to fill critical gaps in the early childhood system in Kent County. This is important because, for children in every corner of the county, success starts early.”

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