First Steps moves Barnwell headquarters

  • Program assistant Eileen Gunnells and executive director Doris Mitchell are the employees of Barnwell County First Steps, which is now located at 11015 Ellenton Street, Barnwell, in the back of the DHEC office building. The agency is governed by a board, including (pictured) Chairman John Holston, Tricia Gordon, Kay Gooding, and Becky Huggins. Not pictured: Vice-Chair Debbie Fickling, Secretary Kathy Fox, Lisa Johnson, Ethel Williams, Sheila Silon, Kimberly Richardson, and Catherine Mack.

Barnwell County First Steps has a new home, but their mission of helping children succeed is the same.

The Barnwell County office had been headquartered in an old school building next to town hall on Lartigue Street in Blackville, but moved in August to the back of the DHEC/Barnwell County Health Department building at 11015 Ellenton Street in Barnwell. Executive Director Doris Mitchell said the new office is more efficient for their needs and puts them closer to partners. A majority of the families they work with are in Barnwell.

“Our mission is to ensure that our children from birth until age four are prepared for first grade,” she said.

First Steps has six core areas of service, including Healthy Start, Quality Child Care, Family Strengthening, School Transition, Early Education, and Early Intervention. These are represented by the six colorful blocks in the organization’s logo.

First Steps wants to ensure children have a healthy start, which is why it’s the first area of service. They work with parents before children are born by providing prenatal and post-partum services.

For the Quality Child Care portion, First Steps works with numerous childcare centers. They also provide scholarships, training and materials.

School Transition includes the Countdown to Kindergarten program where teachers work with rising kindergartners during the summer to prepare them for school.

As part of Family Strengthening, home visitation strategies “help parents understand their responsibilities to care for and be positive role models for their children. As a result, 66 percent of clients initially assessed at ‘low’ levels of parenting have achieved moderate or high levels of parenting skills,” according to a brochure. This includes showing parents how they can use things in their homes to help teach their children, said Mitchell. Barnwell County First Steps hopes to open a parent resource room by March to hold workshops, meet with parents, and provide a variety of family resources to the community.

The final two areas focus on children once they are in school. Legislative action in 2014 expanded First Steps 4K “so that it now serves some of the most at-risk children in 61 of the state’s 81 school districts,” according to the brochure. For infants and toddlers who have developmental delays, First Steps has resources to match them with customized resources that are available locally.

First Steps wants to help as many children as possible, although certain risk factors must be met in order for children to receive services.

State funds along with private donations make First Steps possible. For the Barnwell County office, the Darnell Initiative is the biggest private supporter by donating enough money to fund 25 scholarships.

For more information, call (803) 621-2441, email dmitchell@scfirststeps.org, or visit www.facebook.com/FirstStepsBarnwellCounty.