Donna Denette comes to Children First with an eclectic background which includes mission work in both Colombia and rural Kentucky (and more recently South Carolina), an undergrad degree in English and Sec. Ed (with minors in Religion and Philosophy), a Master’s in English Lit, a teaching certification, a passion for languages and world travel, a tenure as a residential camp director, a volunteer position as a “Visitor” for the American Camping Association, a position as School-Age Program Director, more than 20 years of early childhood program administration, and a life-long dedication to teaching and to helping children. She finds that she uses a little bit of all of that everyday! Donna was one of the co-founders of Children First (1999). The Board of Directors named Donna as Executive Director of the company in the spring of 2001. She works with the Leadership Team to run the day-to-day business of the company. She is also responsible for the long-term plans, which resulted in the successful expansion of the center in 2010 and again in 2017. While other centers have closed or reduced their offerings, Children First continues to grow. Miss Donna brings her organizational talents, problem-solving skills, and writing abilities to her post. While most of her time is spent in mundane issues like budgets, long-term planning, licensing, scheduling, and slot management, she loves to create weekly newsletters, first-day collages, and update our Facebook page, all things that showcase how fabulous our staff and programs are and continue to be. Since COVID hit, she has dedicated her time and energy to increasing advocacy efforts for our field, working to ensure that legislators, funders, and others include Western Massachusetts and rural communities in their plans to strengthen the early childhood infrastructure.
How long have you been with Children First: Co-Created the company in 1999
What is your role at CF: Executive Director
Favorite Quote: “If there is no wind, Row!”
Favorite Book: Oh, so many… from my personal life – Outlander & Mists of Avalon… from work: The Dance of Interaction & Last Child in the Woods.
What is your 5 year Children First Goal: Grow in advocacy, invest further in our Leadership Team, get solar on our roof!
Heather Cruz grew up in Granby and was educated in the Granby public schools. She worked for several years at Six Flags New England, and rapidly rose to the level of supervisor there. Heather has been with us since March, 2005, has her Associates in Early Childhood Education, and is Director II certified. Being qualified to work in any position in any of our programs, Miss Heather subs and covers breaks whenever and wherever necessary. Heather primarily works in our office, assisting Miss Donna in the demands of running the business. She handles all accounts payable/receivable and is in charge of billing—so all Q’s about accounts can be directed to her. Her contributions to the office have been tremendous. We wonder how we ever did it without her!! Heather and her husband, Juan, have just celebrated their 4 year anniversary and have a son together named Kingston. He is the love of their lives. We have enjoyed watching him grow as he is now in our first year with our private Kindergarten program. Heather enjoys scrap-booking, camping, line dancing and vacationing at different places.
How long have you been with Children First: 14 years
What is your DEEC Certificate: Director II
What is your role at CF: Office Manager
Favorite Quote: “You’ve always had the power my Dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” Glinda – Wizard of Oz
Favorite Book: The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear
What is your 5 year Children First Goal: Help support families and create a staffing board.
Beckie Leone worked with CF for more than four years as a substitute educator (both short and long-term) as well as being a regular opener/closer with both our preschool and school-age programs. During this same time, she worked as a special education therapy assistant with the South Hadley school system. When the full-time “Lead” lead teacher position opened in Birch last year, Beckie took the opportunity to become a full-time part of our teaching team. From her years of experience supporting children with special needs, Beckie brought a great deal of talent, knowledge, and a fresh approach to our team. She is trained and certified in both preschool and school-age programs, making her a valuable asset. Her bright and positive outlook is contagious, and staff and children alike are drawn to her. She quickly embraced her role as “Team Leader”. Miss Beckie has also been working with the Team Leaders at CF to develop a more coordinated response when children need support services. Given her training and experience with children with special needs, we have developed a new position at CF. Please welcome Miss Beckie to her new role as “Support Services Coordinator”! We are working with Beckie now to further develop the job description and expectations, but we know that she is the right person to help us better respond when a child needs further supports to be successful. Beckie lives in South Hadley with her son (who also works for CF!) and her fiancé. She loves to read, and really loves her family time. Her new passion is planning her upcoming wedding.
How long have you been with Children First: 6 1/2 years
What is your DEEC Certificate: Director II
What is your role at CF: Assistant Director
Favorite Quote: “Some of the most wonderful people are the ones who don’t fit into boxes”
“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in a way the child can learn”
Favorite Book: Green Eggs and Ham – Dr. Seuss
What is your 5 year Children First Goal: Solid Support Services Resources and Program