First Steps Kent president steps down

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Annemarie Valdez. Courtesy 616 Media

The president of a local nonprofit is stepping down.

First Steps Kent said Monday, May 2, President Annemarie Valdez is leaving the organization Friday, May 6, and Cati Cortes will serve as interim president, effective the same date.

Valdez said she is leaving the organization for personal reasons.

“The past two years have been difficult for everyone but have also provided a chance for thought and reflection,” she said. “I am not sure what lies ahead for me, but I want the opportunity to hit pause and further reflect on life.

“It has been a true pleasure leading First Steps as we have reached milestones and celebrated triumphs that will ensure early childhood remains at the forefront in Kent County and West Michigan.”

Valdez joined First Steps Kent as executive director in 2015, the Business Journal previously reported. She most recently was an honoree among the 2022 Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women.

Cortes joined First Steps Kent in 2019 as a financial accountant. In this position, she worked with the budgets, processes and partners for the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage, Shared Services Pilot Project and Early Childhood Systems work.

“I’m excited to serve in this role as interim president and help guide the organization during the transition to new leadership,” Cortes said. “Over the past two years, I have gained a deep understanding of Kent County’s early childhood system, funding partners and community partnerships. I’m joined by an incredible staff that will help ensure we maintain the quality and communication people have come to expect from First Steps Kent.”

Cati Cortes. Courtesy First Steps Kent

Following last month’s announcement of Valdez’s departure, the First Steps Kent board of commissioners convened a search committee to guide the process of selecting new leadership.

The search committee selected Kittleman & Associates to coordinate the search for a new, permanent president.

“Over the coming months, Kittleman will be conducting a thorough search across West Michigan and beyond for First Steps Kent’s next leader,” said Juan Olivarez, chair of the search committee. “This presents an amazing opportunity to connect with the commission, staff, early childhood partners and our community to hear what they are looking for in a new president who can build on Kent County’s reputation as a national leader in early childhood.”

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