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Tucson business and education community show up in a big way for early childhood at awards breakfast

FTF CEO Melinda Morrison Gulick stands at a podium speaking at the United Way breakfast event.

The United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona recently raised more than $124,000 for early learning at its 19th Annual Business Leaders for Early Education Breakfast hosted by Women United, a United Way affinity group.

The Feb. 15 event, called Early Education is Everyone’s Business, brought together more than 600 business leaders and educators to champion the cause. 

“I’m here to let you know what this gathering truly represents,” said Tony Penn, president and CEO of United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.

“It represents the best investment that we as a community and United Way as an organization can make in our children. Statistics show that when we invest in high-quality early childhood education that gives us a fantastic return on investment. It helps to be able to make sure that we’re going to have that great workforce for today and tomorrow. It’s the most important investment that any of us can make.”

FTF Board Vice Chair Steve Lynn and FTF CEO Melinda Morrison Gulick at the United Way of Tucson Annual Business BreakfastFirst Things First State Board Vice Chair Steve Lynn received the 2024 Business Champion for Early Education Award.

The award recognizes a person from the business community who has significantly contributed to the quality and access of early childhood education in Tucson and southern Arizona. 

Lynn thanked the United Way for the award and appealed to the business leaders in the room. 

“If you ever thought about getting engaged in the community, this is the subject that I implore you to put on the top of the list,” Lynn said. “You cannot invest better or more in the future of this community unless you invest in our next generation. Why would you invest in early childhood education? It’s because it’s where our future is and it’s the only future we’ve got.”

Carolina Rojas, a Head Start teacher with Child Parent Centers and Bonita Stembridge, a 3rd grade teacher at Holladay Magnet School, were named Literacy Champions. 

FTF CEO Melinda Morrison Gulick delivered the closing remarks. She applauded the United Way’s work in southern Arizona and the leadership and vision in Pima County to support quality early childhood education in programs like PEEPs, which stands for the Pima Early Education Program.

The scholarship program has helped more than 1,000 children gain access to early childhood education in Pima County. 

“Since the inception of First Things First, our partners including the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, have been in lockstep in helping achieve our vision and your vision of, all Arizona’s children are ready to succeed in school and in life,” Gulick said. 

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