By CHERIL VERNON
Helping build the Anderson County Champions for Children from the ground up since its inception 11 years ago, Executive Director Joan Strominger has led the organization to success over the years with her leadership and passion for helping young children succeed.
Strominger, who retired on Dec. 31, will be honored for her contribution to the organization during a reception taking place from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 1 at the Champions for Children office at 1004 S. Magnolia St. in Palestine.
The non-profit organization that supports early childhood learning offers a variety of services for childcare and early education providers ranging from training classes for continuing education and a resource room of learning and brain-building materials for young children.
“What many people in Anderson County do not realize is that Anderson County Champions for Children was started with a two-year State of Texas grant,” Strominger said. “A group of concerned citizens with a wide presentation of our community met monthly about their concerns for the early education of young children in our community.
“In 2000, this group organized and became a 501c3 nonprofit organization, by federal guidelines, that allowed us to apply to the state for funding.”
According to the grant, the organization was to become self sufficient by the end of 2001.
“We successfully accomplished that goal by having numerous fundraisers to sustain our organization,” Strominger said.
Strominger credits Mark Price, who at that time served as marketing manager for the Texas State Railroad through the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, for the idea to hold a fundraiser on the train.
“I told him ‘I have to find the right book,’ and the rest is history. Champions held the first North Pole Express in 2004,” Strominger said. “At the time we were unaware that Tom Hanks was working on the movie that we had picked to base our event on ‘Polar Express.
“The following year the movie made our event a huge draw to tourists from all over our country to Palestine.”
Anderson County Champions for Children offers most of its services to the surrounding counties of Leon, Limestone, Freestone, Cherokee, Houston and Henderson.
“Any early childhood provider or parent is welcome at the training classes,” Strominger said. “Texas state law requires all person keeping children in their care be listed with the state and have continuing education hours in various areas of early childhood development.
“Most of the centers in Palestine take advantage of the training services we provide.”
The resource room of learning materials for young children is open to childcare employees in Anderson County to check out, much like a lending library, and also includes teaching supplies and hands-on materials. The local office now encompasses 1,500 square feet.
Under Strominger’s leadership, Champions for Children installed a “Born Learning” Walking Trail in the Steven Bennett Park located near the Palestine YMCA.
“This trail helps teach parents easy everyday conversations to have with their pre-school age children while spending time outdoors,” Strominger said.
Champions for Children also was instrumental in bringing a fingerprint location to Palestine.
“This helps folks in need of those services so they would not need to travel out of town. We have great relationships with other non-profits in using each other’s services to maximize what we have locally,” Strominger said.
Strominger said she chose to retire at this time for several reasons, mostly family.
“I recently lost my dad and my mother needs me more for her care,” she said. ”My daughter and son-in-law had twins this fall and needs — as she puts it — ‘expert advice, help and extra hands.’
“I also have two older, wonderfully unique grandchildren that I would like to enjoy, because as we all learn to late, you can never get back those important early years,” she added. “My husband of 38 years is semi-retired and I am looking forward to spending more quality time with him.
“I also believe that all non-profits need to get fresh blood in their organization to stay successful.”
Her plans for retirement include finishing unfinished projects at home, enjoying her grandchildren, reading, gardening, volunteering and continuing more actively in she and her husband’s hobby of colonial living history.
“I would also like to thank my friends and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church family for their individual support of Champions for Children, because all organizations depend on the donations they receive,” Strominger said.