South Carolina First Steps awards $17,664,476 in grants to support children’s healthy development and school readiness - SC First Steps

South Carolina First Steps awards $17,664,476 in grants to support children’s healthy development and school readiness

South Carolina First Steps has awarded its largest funding amount in more than 15 years - $17,664,476 in grants to its network of 46 local First Steps partnerships. A combination of state, federal and private dollars, the funds will directly impact more than 30,000 children and will expand parenting programs, increase the quality of child care, support positive transitions between early childhood and elementary school and improve the health of South Carolina’s youngest citizens. 

The state’s largest funder of early childhood programs in every county, South Carolina First Steps was able to award both $14,435,228 in state funding to all 46 local First Steps partnerships, plus $3,229,248 in federal, state, and private funds in targeted and competitive grant funding to help 44 counties expand and add new programs that successfully prepare children for school. 

Georgia Mjartan, Executive Director of South Carolina First Steps notes, “Investing public dollars in early childhood provides the greatest rate of return. For every dollar spent, we can track between $4 and $16 in societal benefits. The $17.6 million we are investing today will produce an economic impact of as much as $282 million for South Carolina. We are incredibly grateful to South Carolina’s legislature and Governor Henry McMaster for their vision for a healthy, thriving future for all children.”

South Carolina First Steps supports and funds a network of 46 county-level nonprofits.  Each “local partnership” has a board made up of community leaders who employ an Executive Director and local staff. The partnerships run programs for families directly or in partnership with other local entities including school districts, child care centers, libraries, and museums. The grants awarded by South Carolina First Steps are matched with local philanthropic dollars and in-kind support, resulting in an even greater impact. 

Children who participate in First Steps programs are 74% more likely to score at the highest level on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (given to all entering Kindergartners) and are 34% less likely to be chronically absent from school. National and state-level research provides evidence that these programs work to ensure children are safe, healthy and ready for school.

Highlights of this historic investment include:

  • Funding is expected to nearly double the number of children and families able to be served in the coming program year, compared to the current year.

  • 50% more children will be enrolled in “high-intensity” programs, where families engage with the program on a regular, sustained basis, resulting in the greatest impact on children’s long-term success.

  • 1700 rising kindergartners across 28 counties will have a better start to their first year in school thanks to expansion of Countdown to Kindergarten, a program where the child’s future kindergarten teacher visits them and their family at home and at school six times over the summer.

  • 38 AmeriCorps members will be recruited, trained, and deployed across 18 counties to provide family and community outreach and support and parent education using the HIPPY model (Home Instruction Program for Parents of Preschool Youngsters).

First Steps is now recruiting applicants across the state for a 10-month term of AmeriCorps service beginning September 3. An online application is available at

For the state fiscal year that began July 1, the South Carolina General Assembly allocated $14.4 million in Education Improvement Act funding for local First Steps partnerships. The First Steps AmeriCorps program is funded by a three-year grant from the United Way Association of South Carolina. Additional funding for local First Steps partnerships comes from the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5), a federal grant awarded to the South Carolina Department of Social Services by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, and from private and philanthropic grants and contributions. South Carolina First Steps is a primary partner for the PDG B-5 grant and provides 100% of the required state matching funds.

Additional funding for the expansion of Countdown to Kindergarten 2021 was made possible by supplemental Education Improvement Act (EIA) funding from the South Carolina Department of Education.

Below is a list of grantees, their AmeriCorps positions and total value of their awards. Detailed information by county is available by contacting the local First Steps office or Betty Gardiner, Director of Grantmaking and Development, at

Abbeville First Steps: $200,000

Aiken First Steps: $440,522

Allendale First Steps: $201,000

Anderson First Steps: $426,787

Bamberg First Steps: $275,100

Barnwell First Steps: $222,100, 1 AmeriCorps Member

Beaufort First Steps: $567,774

Berkeley First Steps: $806,630, 3 AmeriCorps Members

Calhoun First Steps: $210,800, 1 AmeriCorps Member

Charleston First Steps: $982,196

Cherokee First Steps: $211,500

Chester First Steps: $201,000

Chesterfield First Steps: $201,000

Clarendon First Steps: $209,100

Colleton First Steps: $285,581

Darlington First Steps: $223,020, 1 AmeriCorps Member

Dillon First Steps: $291,500, 1 AmeriCorps Member

Dorchester First Steps: $379,589, 1 AmeriCorps Member

Edgefield First Steps: $211,000

Fairfield First Steps: $217,200

Florence First Steps: $437,610

Georgetown First Steps: $201,000, 1 AmeriCorps Member

Greenville First Steps: $1,125,744

Greenwood First Steps: $250,538

Hampton First Steps: $212,150, 2 AmeriCorps Members

Horry First Steps: $746,725, 3 AmeriCorps Members

Jasper First Steps: $215,982, 1 AmeriCorps Member

Kershaw First Steps: $218,900

Lancaster First Steps: $246,775, 1 AmeriCorps Member

Laurens First Steps: $203,400

Lee First Steps: $224,408, 2 AmeriCorps Members

Lexington First Steps: $862,556

McCormick First Steps: $203,500

Marion First Steps: $255,250, 3 AmeriCorps Members

Marlboro First Steps: $218,600, 2 AmeriCorps Members

Newberry First Steps: $293,325, 2 AmeriCorps Members

Oconee First Steps: $213,500

Orangeburg First Steps: $384,807, 2 AmeriCorps Members

Pickens First Steps: $392,041

Richland First Steps: $1,319,432, 4 AmeriCorps Members

Saluda First Steps: $201,000

Spartanburg First Steps: $828,917

Sumter First Steps: $369,810

Union First Steps: $204,500

Williamsburg First Steps: $223,600, 2 AmeriCorps Members

York First Steps: $847,004


PHOTO: Marlboro County First Steps Executive Director Randall Johnson (pictured center) was presented a check for $218,600 from SC First Steps Chief Partnership Officer Derek Cromwell (on right) and Program Officer Carletta Isreal (on left) at First United Methodist Children’s Center in Bennettsville, S.C. on July 15.

Topics: Local Partnerships

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