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

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)