PHOENIX – (March 21, 2022) First Things First has welcomed seasoned business leader and education advocate Melinda Morrison Gulick as the organization’s new CEO, overseeing statewide efforts to improve school readiness for children birth to age 5.
FTF Chief Financial Officer Josh Allen had been serving in the role on an interim basis since August, when Marilee Dal Pra retired.
First Things First was created by Arizona voters in 2006 to expand early childhood programs that help children arrive at kindergarten healthy and prepared to succeed. Through its volunteer regional councils statewide, FTF has invested in strategies that have strengthened families; improved the quality of early learning; and expanded access to preventive health screenings for thousands of babies, toddlers and preschoolers statewide.
Leading Arizona’s early childhood agency brings Gulick’s career full circle; she started out spearheading community relations and fundraising for one of the state’s largest child-serving non-profits, Southwest Human Development. Since then, many of her personal and professional efforts have focused on supporting educational investments.
“The more I worked in education, the more I realized the importance of a strong start in putting every child on a trajectory toward school success,” Gulick said. “It also reinforced that the work of strengthening families and supporting young kids needs to engage everyone – parents, extended families, communities, philanthropy, business and policymakers.”
FTF Board Chair Gerald Szostak said Gulick’s diverse background – including her experience with community engagement and volunteer-led organizations – made her the ideal candidate for the job.
“First Things First does an incredible job with the resources we have, but the needs of young children far outweigh the capacity of any one organization,” Szostak said. “If every child is going to be ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond, we need a leader who can engage decision-makers across various fields and get them working together toward a common vision. CEO Gulick has a proven track record of doing just that, and we are confident that she will add to those successes at First Things First.”
Gulick’s most recent work was as an independent management consultant for a variety of organizations, primarily non-profits. Among her notable accomplishments was facilitating a public-private partnership to guarantee graduates of Coronado High School two years of community college or technical school. Now, she is setting her sights on creating the same type of innovations at the beginning of the educational continuum.
Ginger Ward, CEO of Southwest Human Development, said the early childhood system will benefit from a leader both passionate about early childhood and savvy about the inner workings of philanthropy, business and public policy.
“Melinda understands that relationships are central to bringing out the best in people, systems and organizations. Her experience establishing, nurturing and leveraging relationships will be instrumental to moving forward the work of First Things First,” Ward said. “As a working parent of two young sons, she appreciates and understands the supports needed to help a family with young children grow and thrive. That is part of what makes her such an enthusiastic and passionate advocate.”
Gulick said she is honored to join First Things First and eager to get to work.
“Research has proven time and again that early childhood programs are one of the smartest investments we can make,” Gulick said. “It’s time to help more decision-makers understand the link between investing in young kids and getting the outcomes they want – healthy kids, successful students, vibrant communities and a thriving economy. I look forward to leading that charge.”
About First Things First – First Things First is a voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten. Decisions about how those funds are spent are made by local councils staffed by community volunteers. To learn more, please visit FirstThingsFirst.org.