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SSFC welcomes leading community members to its board of directors

Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. (SSFC) received eight new community leaders to its Board of Directors at its bimonthly corporate meeting on Sept. 19. These members bring a wide range of expertise in the fields of child and family development, education, human resources, and law enforcement. The organization also added three staff members to expand its teaching and learning services and fundraising/marketing capabilities.

The new SSFC Board members are:

  • Kelley Bendheim – Early Learning Coordinator, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
  • Deborah L. Best, Ph.D. – William L. Poteat Professor of Psychology, Wake Forest University
  • Tembila Covington – Urban Agriculture Program Assistant, NC Cooperative Extension, Forsyth County Center
  • Dr. C. Anthony Jones, Jr. – Senior Minister, United Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church
  • Cleopatra Morrison – Child and Family Support Team Social Worker, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
  • Deborah Reynolds – Human Resource Consultant, Marsh McLennan Agency
  • Wilson S. Weaver, II – Assistant Police Chief, Winston-Salem Police Department
  • Susanne Wilkinson – Human Resources Consulting Partner, Wells Fargo

“We are excited and grateful to have this diverse group of talented and knowledgeable individuals join our Board,” said SSFC Board Chair Matt Britt. “They will add valuable perspectives and insights to an already strong team. We look forward to working with them as Smart Start continues its leadership in Forsyth County’s early childhood development and learning efforts.”

SSFC also elected a new Executive Committee of its Board. This committee now includes:

  • Matt Britt, Chair
  • Sheryll Strode, Vice-Chair
  • Diana Santos Johnson, Secretary
  • Bennett Bruff, Treasurer
  • Elizabeth Dampier, Past-Chair
  • Doug Punger, At-large
  • Kelley Bendheim, At-large & NC Pre-K Committee Co-Chair
  • Sabrina Hinton, At-large & Development Committee Chair

The board enjoyed valedictory words from Alvin Atkinson, one of the longest serving board leaders, who completed two, full consectuive three year terms on the board, including four years as treasurer. In special prepared remarks, Alvin shared, ” Smart Start’s commitment to equity, and making a difference in our community for ALL children was perhaps the singlest biggest reason I continued to make Smart Start a priority in my civic work. I’m counting on this board to continue that commitment in the months and years ahead. Equity has never been more important to our families, nor to our social and econmic progress.”

Matt Britt (right) recognizes out-going, senior board member and former treasurer, Alvin Atkinson, with a gift book, signed by all the staff and officers, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

Along with the Board additions, SSFC has increased its staff to better meet the needs of early childhood centers and the families they serve.

  • Makisha Burns, most recently an employee of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, joins as a Pre-K Transition Specialist providing on-site support to families whose children are moving from Pre-K to Kindergarten, as well as training to early education teachers throughout the county.
  • Mark Palmer, formerly an employee of Forsyth Country Day School, fills the new role of Director of Advancement overseeing the fundraising and marketing efforts for the programs and initiatives currently managed by Smart Start.
  • Dana Sandknop, a recent graduate of UNC-Greensboro, serves as an Engagement Specialist assisting families and educators in enrolling and participating in family support, consumer, and professional education and training.

“These newest members of our staff will allow us to better serve our clients and to increase the good we can do for the youngest children of Forsyth County. We are thrilled to have their expertise and energy, and know they will have an immediate, positive impact,” said Larry Vellani, SSFC’s Executive Director.

All SSFC Board of Directors meetings are open to the public and are held from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm on the third Wednesday of November, January, March, May, July, and September at the Smart Start office, 7820 North Point Blvd., Winston-Salem. For more information about the new Board members, employees, and SSFC programs, please visit smartstart-fc.org.

About Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc.

Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. works to provide training, resources, direction, and leadership in rallying the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County community to build and sustain an affordable, equitable, high-quality system of early childhood development and learning for all families.

Smart Start is a network of 75 nonprofit, local partnerships that serve all 100 North Carolina counties. This network is led by The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. (NCPC) that ensures fiscal and programmatic accountability and coordinates the statewide network to create better outcomes for children and families. Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. (SSFC), a Smart Start network member since 1995, is a leading organization in Forsyth County focused on the quality and progress of the community’s early-learning system.

Media contact:

Mark Palmer, Director, Advancement & Communications
336-714-4350 (office)
636-233-2514 (cell)

SSFC Now Provides “One-Stop-Shop” Approach to Finding & Funding High Quality Child Care

Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. (SSFC) has made it easier than ever for families to access information about high quality childcare in Forsyth County.  Using the “one-stop-shop” approach, families can now visit SSFC’s offices located on North Point Boulevard in Winston-Salem and speak to a family engagement specialist, who will assist parents and caregivers in making informed child care choices.  SSFC’s family specialists will provide consumer education and support in navigating among the nearly 220 full-day, child care and early learning facilities available in Forsyth County.

SSFC’s Family Scholarship program provides financial assistance to qualifying families to offset the high cost of quality childcare settings.  To qualify, parents must be working a minimum of 25 hours per week or be a full-time student, and meet the income requirements. Income requirements vary by the size of the household.

SSFC’s NC Pre-K program provides high-quality, classroom-based educational experiences to enhance school readiness for eligible four-year old children. A child that meets the age requirements is eligible for NC Pre-K if the child meets one of the following criteria:

  • Gross family income is at or below 75% of the State Median Income level.
  • Parent is or was a member of the US military
  • Gross family income is in excess of 75% of the State Median Income and child has one of the risk factors identified below:
    • Identified developmental disability
    • An educational need as indicated by the child’s performance results on an approved developmental screening
    • A chronic health condition as indicated by the diagnosis from a professional health care provider

Applications for the Family Scholarship and NC Pre-K programs are available at SSFC’s office located at 7820 North Point Boulevard, Suite 200, Winston-Salem, NC, 27106 or online at www.SmartStart-FC.org.

EdNC.org Interviews Smart Start CEO

… read EdNC correspondent Katy Clune’s full story Closing the Gaps: Smart Start of Forsyth County  as part of EdNC’s on going series Focus on Forsyth

On February 1, EdNC’s Katy Clune sat down with SSFC’s CEO Larry Vellani. Follow the full conversation below. For further information about EdNC’s feature series, Focus on Forsyth, visit EdNC’s Focus on Forsyth.

EdNC: On the subject of relationships. What advice would you offer to a community who is attempting to foster a network among its early childhood education services? (This is clearly one of Winston-Salem’s greatest assets)

.. overlook no one, recognize and embrace the value of the participation of a diversity of opinion; then, once you have folks gathered  around the table, support active listening skills and terrific meeting management … it’s as much about creating the space in which people can participate, and creating a culture of inclusiveness & transparency, so that folks feel respected, feel they know what’s going on, feel that their concerns & perspectives are taken into account, and that the group is rallied around the same, strong, parent-&-child-centered agenda …

– EdNC: What kind of programs/services does Smart Start support that touch multiple generations? (Reach out and Read is one of them, for example)

… with our own staff, of course, our ROR & ABCD programs, our classroom field work, our educator scholarship program through our offices and our itinerant instructor partnership with Forsyth Tech, as well as our own parent engagement & training through our family scholarship program and our subcontractors at Imprints Cares & Work Family Resource Center … and Help Me Grow is an exciting, transgenerational program in its early stages of initiation …

– EdNC: Are there lessons learned at Smart Start of Forsyth County you think can be applied in other counties?

… Larry engaging at the Reggio Emilia exhibit “The Wonder of Learning” at Northgate Mall in Durham, NC, January through May … for more info, visit https://www.northgatemall.com/event/wonder-of-learning-exhibit/

listen to the parents, the teachers and the providers about what they need and want … have a big table and don’t be afraid, don’t back away from asking tough questions to get at deeper understanding and deeper consensus, based upon the valuable experience and insight of each of the players … and in 21st century North America, regardless of the region, state or province, that means lifting up equity, examining privilege, understanding the continuum of opportunities and access that feed the gaps we bemoan … it is no accident that some parts of our educational system are doing great and others are languishing … it’s a system: value in value out, garbage in, garbage out—and I’m not talking about people when I say garbage …

– EdNC: Why is inter-generation support important?

… if by inter-generational you mean programs that provide opportunity for children and adults at the same time, as part of a family system, then doing so keeps us aligned with Mother Nature and in sync with ourselves as social animals … simply put: working with the entire family is nature’s way, it’s the guarantee of the most successful outcomes for the kids and adults long term …

– EdNC: Why is early childhood education so vital to brain development?


… Larry engaging at the Reggio Emilia exhibit “The Wonder of Learning” at Northgate Mall in Durham, NC, January through May … for more info, visit https://www.northgatemall.com/event/wonder-of-learning-exhibit/

… as walking and running and tumbling, with sufficient rest, is fundamental to physical development, so providing enriching, serve-and-return environments is key to how the human brain develops … nurture launches nature … early ed is about nurturing the entire child within a safe, healthy, stimulating human and natural environment … when a child is fortunate to be positioned in that way, his or her brain takes off … I believe as a society we owe every child the opportunity for that kind of start … in failing one child, we fail all of us …

– EdNC: What is one of the challenges in your work, and how do you get around it?

… summoning your best thoughts in the moment for a camera … 😉 … more seriously, the greatest challenge is the oppressive, suffocating power of poverty, and our inability as a social and economic community to maximize market return on human capital with the same spare-no-expense commitment that we seem to approach maximizing return on financial capital …and how do I deal with it? … I have limited control, in the short run, on gross economic inequalities that result in the grinding poverty in our midst … I do frequently have to deal with channeling my own sense of urgency for change with an awareness of the privilege that I enjoy to be able to help create & lead change … everyone is not at the same level of understanding or same level of passion for the opportunities for progress that I and others see around us … how do I seek to meet & be in tune with folks where they are at in the moment, and, at the same time, know that I’m in the business to help people move toward the goals we truly do share …that’s often my greatest challenge each day … and, believe me, I’m a work in progress and working on it … with the support and patience of my staff, my board, and other allies and mentors in the community … but, in the end, real, lasting change can only move at the speed of trust …

– EdNC: What motivates you to keep striving when the work gets tough?” 

… my sense that people have struggled long & hard on my behalf to help fearlessly clear the way for me in my early childhood & youth &

What’s buzzin’ with Don Quixote & Sancho Panza on Larry’s desk?

into young adulthood … and that people did the same for my parents & their parents before them … and they did so, because they believed I had something to contribute to the world … I’m here to make a difference, not to be indifferent … and as long as I think I’ve got the energy & passion to do that professionally in the early childhood arena  then I’ll be at this post … and when the time for change comes, I hope I’ve made this post & this organization & this community a bit better place to be for the folks who come after me …


Two brief video excerpts from a later EdNC video-taping at SSFC’s offices …


Brief excerpt on the importance of Birth – 3, and Serve-and-Return Relationships


… Larry doing his level best to work on serve-and-return with a very patient, youth-volunteer at the SSFC Children’s Area at “Christmas For the City 2016” at the Benton Convention Center in downtown Winston-Salem, Dec 21, 2106 … la música y las historias continúa

Leadership Matters Institute (LMI) honors participants at October 18 networking banquet

… TED-Talk celebrity, David Rendall inspires participants and guests to remember that “What makes us weird also makes us wonderful … and what makes us weak also makes us strong!” …

He calls it the “freak factor”””that thing or things that define us as unique, those things that cause us problems in “normal situations,” that cause us to doubt perhaps our truest gifts.


David Rendall talking, walking, and working for himself–to help others!

The purveyor of the Freak Factor, David Rendall, sees himself as his own best, six-foot-six (“six-foot-nine in heels”) living exemplar of FF. To paraphrase from his talk, his elementary and middle school experiences as a nightmare for some of the adults in his life: he couldn’t keep quiet, he couldn’t sit still, and he couldn’t follow instructions.

And today? He makes a very comfortable living pacing a public stage for hire, with a rat-ta-tat, non-stop delivery, working for himself.

“What makes us weird makes us wonderful. What makes us weak also makes us strong.”

That is if you’re willing to use your uniqueness to your advantage.


From the left: Banquet M.C. Matthew McKeown; LMI participants Vanessa Sawyer-Wilson; Cara Jankowski McKeown, and Victoria Frazier.

Borrowing from Peter Drucker, Rendall notes “Strong people always have strong weaknesses too. Where there are peaks there are valleys.” Rendall notes the trick is to “amplify” your weaknesses into a strength.

Another great observation from the Drucker canon he often shares is, “Organizations exist to make people’s strengths effective and weaknesses irrelevant.”

The October 18 recognition dinner and “performance lecture by David Rendall marked the beginning of the second stage of the three-stage Leadership Matters Institute (LMI). LMI is a project of Smart Start’s Teaching and Learning Services program.


Institute participants in a deep dive discussion on the “Four Factors of Effective Leadership” with David Rendall.


Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts

LMI’s principal organizer, Cara Jankowski McKeown, and her planning team involving fellow Smart Start staff and board members, Vanessa Sawyer Wilson and Theressa Stephens, have modeled the institute off of the Early Childhood Director’s Leadership Institute conducted at UNC – Greensboro from October 2013 through April 2015. The institute provides directors from across Forsyth County a distinctive opportunity for professional and personal growth, fine-tuning leadership technique, tailoring methods of motivation in the workplace, and exploring new pathways to create a holistically positive environment for children, families, and employees.

For more information about LMI, contact Cara McKeown at 336.714.4351 or CaraM@SmartStart-FC.org.

“Every ending is a new beginning!” David Rendall.institute-ii-agenda-and-housekeeping

Here’s a link to one of David’s recent TED Talks: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=david+Rendall+%2b+TED&view=detail&mid=44A4EB695372424EC45C44A4EB695372424EC45C&FORM=VIRE

Leadership Matters Institute Facilitators:

  • Cara McKeown, Teaching and Learning Specialist, SSFC
  • Vanessa Sawyer-Wilson, Teaching and Learning Services Coordinator, SSFC

Leadership Matters Coaches:

  • Theressa Stephens (pronounced “Theresa”), Owner and Director, Church Childcare
  • Karen Young, Developmental Day Director of the Special Children’s School
  • Shawn Martin, Operations Manager, Centers for Exceptional Children

Leadership Matters Cohort Participants:

  • Carol Grubbs, Assistant Director, Church Childcare
  • Ann Wherry Dunn, Owner and Director, Waughtown Kids-R-Us
  • Paula Cancro, Director, Our Lady of Mercy Preschool
  • Victoria Frazier, Owner and Director, Victoria’s Academy
  • Saleena Frazier, Director, Oak Summit Learning Center
  • Sabrina Hinton, Director, North Point and TLC Learning Academies
  • Amanda Donaldson, Owner and Director, A Better World Learning Center
  • June Miller, Owner and Director, Maxx Kinder Kollege
  • Carrie Zeigler, Director, The Potter’s House for Children

Funding Opportunities 2016-2017

FY 2016-2017 Request for Proposals (RFP)

Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc., (SSFC) is requesting proposals from organizations that provide evidence based or informed services that contribute to the well-being and development of children, birth to 5 yrs., and their families in the following areas: early care and education, health, family support and literacy. Interested organizations must submit a Letter of Intent (LOI) by 5 pm on 11/16/15. Incomplete or late forms will not be accepted.  Please submit the LOI and direct all inquiries to Charlette Lindell, charlettel@smartstart-fc.org, 714-4347.  LOI forms are available at www.smartstart-fc.org.

For More Information & to download the Letter of Intent go to our Funding Opportunities page

Success Stories – Coming Soon

Each day we hear about how the lives of children in the Triad are affected by our services.  We are organizing some of our best success stories.  Check back soon!

Visit our new comfort station …

… for mothers and their nursing babies just off our main reception area!

Comform station 1 Comform station 1

… completed a year ago, part of our on-going efforts to make our offices family and community friendly. For more information about the value of breasfeeding, please visit http://www.ncbfc.org/

Smart Start of Forsyth County receives grant to conduct vision screening

IMAG0429Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. (SSFC) has received a grant from The Winston-Salem Foundation to provide 529 children in the Forsyth County NC Pre-K program with photo-refractive vision screening.

Vision screening is critical to the early detection and correction of visual impairment in young children. A small problem with vision can have major implications for the development of reading as well as gross and fine motor skill development.

“We are so grateful to The Winston-Salem Foundation,” according to Donna Faulconer, director of the county’s NC Pre-K program, “as this grant will allow us to help children and their families take the necessary corrective measures to address any visual challenges. These funds provide vital screening services and early intervention opportunities to ensure that our children get off to the right start for a life-time of learning.”

Under the direction of SSFC, Forsyth County’s NC Pre-K program provides high quality educational experiences to enhance school readiness for eligible four-year olds. The program focuses on different approaches to learning, emotional and social development, health and physical development, language and communication skills, and cognitive development.

The Winston-Salem Foundation provides millions of dollars to charitable organizations every year, to promote a better and stronger community. The Foundation and SSFC have worked together in the past and look forward to a bright future of building a strong community. This grant is possible through resources from the Claire Lockhart Follin-Mace Fund.

Expanding early childhood developmental screenings in 7 county area


Kelly Garrison, Quality Improvement Director for Northwest Community Care Network (NCCN), explains the importance of inter-organizational collaboration in improving developmental and educational outcomes for children from before birth through age five.

Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. (SSFC) is expanding early childhood developmental screenings in a seven-county area, including Forsyth County. SSFC has been awarded almost $200,000 from the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc., in Raleigh to implement an evidenced-based screening program for children birth to five years of age in cooperation with Northwest Community Care Network, Inc. (NCCN) of Winston-Salem, and local pediatric practices throughout the seven-county region.

Smart Start and Northwest Community Care hosted a public information session on the new program Tuesday  evening  July 30 at the Third Branch Cafe in Yadkinville.

On October 28, Lucinda “Cindy” Green, an experienced health care professional and family practice manager assumed the duties of coordinator for the project. Cindy can be reached at her offices with Northwest Community Care Network in Winston-Salem at (336) 716-8904, or LGreen@NWCommunityCare.org.

Assuring Better Childhood Health and Development (ABCD) is a proven, universal approach to screening young children in primary health care settings. The ABCD program will serve children, families and physicians in Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes, and Yadkin Counties.

According to Larry Vellani, SSFC executive director, “The ABCD program undoubtedly will have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of children and families in our communities.” Jim Graham, NCCN executive director, added, “We couldn’t be more pleased to partner with Smart Start of Forsyth County and look forward to doing all that we can to make this program a success throughout our entire seven-county Community Care Network region.”

The ABCD program increases the rates of developmental screening and referral rates for young children within the medical home by integrating routine developmental screening into well-child visits using a validated tool such as the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) or the Parents Evaluation of Developmental Skills (PEDS). Through the program, medical professionals also receive training to use the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT) and to refer children needing follow-up to appropriate community services.

Many children with developmental problems are not identified as early as possible, thus, delaying necessary interventions and treatments. National estimates report that approximately16% of all children have developmental delays and that only about 30% of those delays are discovered before school entry. In 2011-12, approximately 5% (35,330) of North Carolina’s young children birth to five years were receiving early intervention services through the publicly funded early intervention system. Unfortunately, this leaves approximately 11%, or over 77,000 children, without these needed services.

Serving the birth-to-five population since 1994, Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc. (SSFC) supports children, parents, educators, and policy makers through collaborative programs, consumer education, and professional training. SSFC’s programs and partnerships improve early childhood care and education; provide parents with tools for raising healthy, successful children; and ensure access to early preventative health, dental, and vision care.

Northwest Community Care Network, Inc. (NCCN) is a network of primary care providers committed to delivering excellent medical care for the Medicaid population in northwest North Carolina. A network of health care providers and care managers, NCCN partners with other community resources to improve the health and well-being of patients in appropriate and cost-effective ways.

For further information, contact Jackie Lofton, Director, Advancement and Professional Services, SSFC, Inc., 336.714.4349 or JackieL@SmartStart-FC.org.