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2020 regional Champions for Young Children honored

collage of photos of eight champions

First Things First is honoring early childhood champions throughout Arizona who actively volunteer to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood development and health. This year, the FTF Regional Champions for Young Children include a superior court judge in Graham County, a firefighter/paramedic in Buckeye, a minister in the San Carlos Apache Tribe and 22 more.

This year, the Champions received additional recognition from Arizona’s senators. U.S. Sens. Martha McSally and Kirsten Sinema acknowledged the champions’ dedication to the early childhood community by sending a congratulatory certificate and letter to each champion. 

These volunteers work to help their community better understand the importance of early childhood through a variety of ways.

For example, in the FTF Graham/Greenlee Region, Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael Peterson provides local early childhood resource guides to families in his courtroom, thus increasing access to information about housing, food banks, education, safety and health services. He also distributes FTF-sponsored children’s books along with information on the importance of reading to young children to families with young children who spend time in his courtroom. 

“The good majority of a person’s life trajectory is set within the first few years of their life,” Peterson said. “If a child is loved, nurtured and cared for when he or she is young, the likelihood of a well-adjusted adolescence and adulthood is much greater. If a child has a true sense of his or her infinite potential, there is no limit on what that child can accomplish throughout their life.”

In a similar fashion, Sarah Mendoza finds opportunities to interact with families where she works in the Buckeye Valley Fire District. Mendoza has distributed early childhood information and resources to families at community events at local fire stations. Mendoza hosted three of these events at fire stations in Litchfield Park, Tonopah and Rainbow Valley, where she incorporated early childhood development messages during these events.

She encourages everyone to get involved.

“Participate in First Things First-supported programs,” Mendoza said. “See firsthand how the early childhood network is supporting families and their children. These programs are essential in helping parents recognize developmental milestones and can provide information and resources that help parents make informed decisions. Every family is different and early childhood programs can help parents identify learning concerns early. Once you see it firsthand, you will want to tell everyone just like I did.”

As a third-grade teacher, Trena Antonio knows first-hand the impact of quality early experiences. She sees it in her students who have had those opportunities before they started elementary school.

“Early childhood development and health is important because it teaches a child to be independent in any and all typical tasks during their development and it will give a child a bright healthy future,” Antonio said.

And she shares the importance of early literacy with the congregants of Freedom Holiness Church in San Carlos in eastern Arizona. As a church minister, Antonio weaves the importance of quality experiences for young children into her sermons. She also shares age-appropriate books with parents of babies, toddlers and preschoolers at her church and shows them how to read with their young children.

Read about more Champions from each region. 

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