A Stepping Stone Foundation was created in 1989 when a handful of people with large hearts and small purses began a journey to create preschool experiences for every needy child in Arizona. Believing that early education is crucial for all children, and seeing the woeful number of children not being served that would most benefit, this group decided to make a difference.

The Foundation put together a “Dream Plan” for a preschool to serve four-year-olds at risk of school failure. The Isaac School District indicated great need and a willingness to work with the Foundation and the rest is history!

A Stepping Stone Foundation Board and Isaac School District created what was to be an award-winning program in the fall of 1990 and now, twenty-two years later A Stepping Stone Foundation has served more than 1700 families (over 5,000 people) in four different Phoenix school districts: Alhambra, Fowler, Isaac, and Murphy. In recent years, a model, child-centered family literacy program remains open in cooperation with the Alhambra School District. A new initiative, Stepping into the Future, was launched in February of 2013.

“We are very proud of our children and all they have accomplished this year. They have learned many practical skills such as recognizing colors, shapes and some numbers, cutting with scissors, holding a crayon or pencil, taking turns, sharing, and following directions. Along with all these important preschool skills, the children are gaining confidence and are feeling good about themselves, who they are and what they can do. Equally important, they are developing a positive attitude about school and an enthusiasm for learning. We thank you for investing in our children’s futures and we assure you that you have made a difference for children and for their families.”
At the first year-end celebration, Teacher Carmen Sanchez

And it’s still TRUE!!

The First Decade

Originally incorporated as The I Have a Dream Foundation early in 1989, by the end of that first year, as plans solidified, the name changed to A Stepping Stone Foundation and was founded by Rev. Bill Smith with friends and members of Shadow Rock Congregational Church. Local early educators, Eileen Hoard and Marilyn Rampley were the first co-directors.

In September of 1990, with only 40% of the needed money in hand, the first preschool class opened. Twenty children from diverse cultural backgrounds embarked on a preschool journey. Two loving teachers and adult volunteers provided the children with language experiences, cognitive skills, social growth, motor experiences–and a hot breakfast and lunch. Their parents enrolled in GED (High School Equivalency) and ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.

Realizing that parents play a vital role in successful school careers, over 240 hours of parenting workshops were given to the parents. Additionally, the teachers made weekly home visits to each family, where the child and parents were given an educational activity for learning at home.

Foundation Board members worked to raise the remaining necessary funds and by the end of the school year proudly reflected on the remarkable success of the first “graduates”. The group had funds in the bank to begin year two and dreams of opening yet another classroom. While it took an additional year, the board did indeed fulfill its expansion dream.

In the third year of operation the program moved into the beautifully renovated Isaac Preschool site. Working hand-in-hand with Even Start, Head Start, and special needs programs, the Stepping Stone classroom thrived. That spring negotiations opened with the Alhambra School District to duplicate the program at one of their schools for the 1992-93 year. The fourth year was outstanding. Two classrooms–forty more children and their families–became a part of the Stepping Stone Foundation dream. Remarkable award-winning collaborations happened between the districts, the community and the Foundation. The Foundation provided extras such as holiday parties, gifts for siblings, childcare for workshops and donated classroom equipment. Year five was equally successful, ending with the Foundation Board deciding to add an additional class in March 1995.

In year six, three classes began in September. Year seven added an additional childcare class for parents and year eight began in the fall of 1997 with continuing enthusiasm. Year nine continued the tradition with 58 families and year ten saw us opening a fourth class, forming an Advisory Board, and making a commitment to duplicate our model in other settings. In the 12th year a fifth classroom was added and the Foundation hired a full-time Director. The former part-time directors (preschool directors at Shadow Rock, too!), wrote the first how-to narrative in hopes of encouraging other communities to replicate our model.

The Next Eight Years

2001 – 2009

With the help of the Kemper and Ethyl Marley Foundation, A Stepping Stone Foundation opened a 3 year pilot project in the Murphy School District to see if a local board could be nurtured to take over the care of one classroom. Much was learned from this experience, but in the end, the pilot closed. The principal finding was that the $90,000 it took to keep one site up and running was too much for one small local board to raise each year.

  • Additional Heroic fundraising over this decade allowed for planned growth and sustaining strategies to be implemented. Special events like Stepping into Paradise, 9 golf tournaments, and the newly established Cena y Serenata dinner event with friends from the Hispanic community; and spreading the word has allowed A Stepping Stone to maintain its policy of having 6 months of funding in the bank at all times.
  • Board diversity became a strategic goal and in 2007, Maritza Hernandez, became the first former preschooler to join the Stepping Stone Board.
  • A Program Coordinator position was created and in the fall of 2008, a highly qualified individual, Paulette Harshberger was hired.
  • Paulette Harshberger was hired.
  • A fourth public school district partnership with Fowler Elementary was created. The first classroom at Fowler Elementary opened in January of 2009 thanks to another generous grant from the Kemper and Ethyl Marley Foundation.

Lean Years

2010 – 2013

Many education initiatives directly felt the effects the Great Recession. A Stepping Stone Foundation closed its supported classrooms at Isaac Preschool Campus and Granada Primary School in the Alhambra School District during this period. In the case of Isaac, the preschool campus sourced child-centered family literacy through other funding. They were highlighted as a national standard having been a primary participant in the $33 Million family literacy CLIO project.

Just months after A Stepping Stone wrote their last check of support to Isaac District, the State of Arizona (Early Childhood Block Grant) and later Federal Funding (Even Start entitlement) was gone. While Isaac Preschool Campus exists today largely due to funding from First Things First-Arizona, there are no more family literacy programs funded there.

The District partnership with Fowler Elementary came to an end too, as that grant ended; but we are very pleased to say, again with the help of Arizona’s First Things First, the preschool classrooms we created continue on. Sadly, as with Isaac, the family literacy pieces (English, GED, Home Visiting and Child and Parent Time Together) are no longer funded there.

Yet, amidst this lean time, a new initiative was born!

Since 2003, A Stepping Stone Foundation had been using a small endowment fund to provide college scholarships. Supporter Billie Gannaway seeded the endowment to provide education scholarships to program graduates.

Scholarship Programs

As our first preschools began going to college, we also started an annual workshop event called Stepping Into College. Today, our Stepping Into the Future Initiative now consists of the Stepping Into College Event, the Billie Gannaway Memorial Scholarship, and an award dinner, Bill and Billie’s Kids Go to College.

As part of that initiative in the fall of 2012, A Stepping Stone hired its first former preschoolers to work in the administrative office hosted by Climatec Inc. This was the beginning of our Internship Program.

Internship Program

2013 and Beyond

In February of 2013, MBA candidates from the Thunderbird School of Global Management began working with A Stepping Stone Foundation. Together with Executive Director Cindy Gattorna and the board we manage a change project geared toward data informed giving. At the writing of this paragraph that initiative is being planned.

Support Today

We provide a tuition free, high quality, developmentally appropriate preschool program.