Early Childhood Champion

NECC, in partnership with We Care for Kids, launched the Early Childhood Champion award to highlight the importance of the early childhood workforce. Beginning in October 2022, two providers were named the “Early Childhood Champion” of the month each month until September 2023. Winners received a $1,000 gift and a plaque in honor of their commitment to excellence and service to their communities.

Celebrating Those Who Help Nebraska Thrive

The early childhood workforce needs our support. Early learning professionals give families and communities access to a supportive environment for learning and growing. Yet, the child care profession is often overlooked when it comes to the much-needed resources and supports these essential educators deserve.

Nebraska needs more early educators, and the Early Childhood Champion campaign is just one way to support the early learning professionals all Nebraskans need to thrive.

Read about our Early Childhood Champions below!

Alisha Perkins | Omaha, NE

October 2022 Early Childhood Champion

Alisha Perkins is the owner of Perkins Tender Love & Care in Omaha. Her program offers 24-hour care to families, a unique and impactful offering to the community! Alisha says that after working closely with families in the human services field for over 20 years, she learned that a healthy foundation makes a difference, and that’s what lead her to her true passion – children.

“I wanted to make the most impact by providing a fun, loving, nurturing learning environment for children. I am currently living a dual passion, I work hands-on with children and I still provide resources and supports to their parents!”

Ashley Garrison | Beatrice, NE

October 2022 Early Childhood Champion

Ash (Ashley) Garrison is the owner of Sky High Daycare in Beatrice, NE. She has been a licensed child care provider for 11 years and is currently in the process of opening a second program in the Beatrice area. She started her career in high school when she was a student aide for the kindergarten class.

“I adored spending my afternoons with children and teaching them life skills,” Ashley said. “When I had my first son, I realized it was the perfect time to operate my own child care.”

Jannette Vilela | Omaha, NE

November 2022 Early Childhood Champion

Jannette Vilela is an early educator at Educare at Indian Hill in Omaha. She has been a child care provider for 15 years and says she became a teacher aide because of her love of being around children who are eager to learn.

“I think teaching is one of the greatest professions there are out there we are helping them grow as individuals as we teach them the knowledge that they didn’t know before. Seeing a student learn and excel at something is genuinely a rewarding experience.”

Shannon Stutzman | Columbus, NE

November 2022 Early Childhood Champion

Shannon Stutzman is the owner of Stutzman’s Daycare. She’s been a child care provider for 24 years and started her journey after struggling to find a child care provider for her daughter.

“During our search, becoming a provider always sat in the back of my mind. About a year and a half after our son was born I felt like I was missing out on my children’s milestones and really started thinking of becoming a childcare provider. The care and love that our children received, I wanted to do that and share that with others.”

Christina Sigbornson | Omaha, NE

December 2022 Early Childhood Champion

Currently serving as the primary provider in the infant 1 room at Hamilton Heights Child Development Center, Christina Sigbornson has been a child care provider for 23 years.

“I knew from a young age that I wanted to be around young children.” Christina said that she thought she would choose to be an elementary school teacher, but soon realized her path would look a little different. “After starting at my first center, I knew that I would much rather spend my day with children under the age of 3.”

Jami Legate | Norfolk, NE

December 2022 Early Childhood Champion

Jami Legate is the owner of Stepping Stones in Norfolk, NE. With 6 years of experience in child care, Jami worked at two child care centers before starting her family child care business in 2018.

“I have always loved kids and I love watching them grow and learn every day. My first little one that I had from 6 months old to 4 years old just left me this year for preschool; I was very sad to see him go but so happy to see him growing up!”

Yai Johnson | Omaha, NE

January 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Yai Johnson is the owner of Circle of Love Childcare Center in Omaha, NE. Having been a child care provider since the age of 16, Yai has been running her program for almost 10 years, serving hundreds of families and managing to sustain her business through the pandemic and other challenges.

“I have always had a love for children. Growing up in a big family having younger siblings, and a large family as well as having once older children of my own, I’ve seen what joy children can bring.”

Jennifer Baumann | Chadron, NE

January 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Jennifer Baumann has been running her program, Little Angel Playschool, since August of 1999. Like many child care professionals, Jennifer initially entered the field to be able to support her children. Soon after, she realized she thoroughly enjoyed working with children and learning about their development.

Children are truly amazing, and it is a joy to see them grow, play, and achieve their milestones. Yes, the effort is difficult, but the rewards are enormous. I feel fortunate to be a part of a child’s first five years of life.”

Bonita Sims | Omaha, NE

February 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Bonita Sims is the owner of Chosen 1 Child Development Center in Omaha, NE. She has been a child care provider for over 20 years, serving families with newborns to watching them grow into school age and beyond.

Bonita says this award means a lot. “I am so excited to receive this award. I have a passion to work with children. The love and passion I have for children has not gone unnoticed. Thank you.”

Angie Kaup | Hooper, NE

February 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Angie Kaup is the owner of Magic Giggles Childcare in Hooper, NE. She has always enjoyed caring for children. Prior to starting her in-home child care program 23 years ago, she worked as a nanny. “Growing up, my mother had an in-home day care, and I knew I wanted to do the same.”

“Being named an Early Childhood Champion means so much to me. It shows that even being a small in-home child care provider that my love and dedication for the families I care for is being noticed. I care for these children and their families so much and this award shows me they appreciate me as much as I do them.”

Carime Ruvalcaba | Grand Island, NE

March 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Carime Ruvalcaba is the owner of Karime Child Care, LLC, and has been a child care provider for 5 years. Carime is CDA certified, participates in Step Up to Quality, and in 2022, received the Women’s Business Center Entrepreneur Award from the Center for Rural Affairs. Carime is working to become a trainer to help other Spanish-speaking child care providers in her community.

“I love being one of the people who positively influence the lives of children and their families. If we invest in thriving children, we will help build thriving families and that will lead to thriving communities.”

Kayla Neumann | Omaha, NE

March 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Kayla Neumann is an Early Childhood Special Education teacher at Westside Community Schools. She has worked in Early Childhood Education for 10 years and was inspired to pursue a career in education because of the impactful relationships she formed with her teachers.

“Being an Early Childhood Champion makes me feel beyond appreciated and valued for the work I have done in my teaching career so far. I work my hardest each day for my students and give them my all, so it means so much to be recognized for that work.”

Dina Nared | Omaha, NE

April 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Dina Nared has been a child care provider for more than 43 years and is the owner of Nared’s PeeWeePalace, Inc. in Omaha.

She comes from a family of educators, including her mom, who instilled her love for reading at an early age. “Through books we visited many places as she read to us every evening. When we opened our center, she read to the children which left them wanting more and I knew that was my job, to create the love of reading in our students and giving them an opportunity to share that same experience.”

Sara Stevenson | Burwell, NE

April 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Sara Stevenson began her journey as a child care provider like many in the field; previously an RN, she saw a need in her community for child care.

One of her nominators had this to say about Sara’s contributions as a child care provider, “Like many communities in rural Nebraska, the quantity and sometimes quality of child care in our community isn’t always quite enough. Sara recognized that and was determined to be a part of the solution.”

Hilary Bergers | Omaha, NE

May 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Hilary Bergers has been a child care provider for over 20 years and truly loves what she does every day. Hilary says the field of Early Childhood Education, but infant care in particular is so important for determining a child’s success later in life.

“Receiving this award is humbling, but also very exciting! It means that the community I live in and serve understands and recognizes the importance of high-quality early care. Thank you!”

Heather Schmidt | Broken Bow, NE

May 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Heather has been in the early childhood field for over 30 years. She has been active as a licensed provider for 17 years. She is the owner of Love & Learn Childcare in Broken Bow, NE.

Heather said the child care provider profession chose her. “I have had other jobs in my life, but I just keep coming back to early childhood. When I opened my own licensed child care in 2005, I finally felt at peace and fulfilled in my career.”

Elysia Beck | Omaha, NE

June 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Elysia Beck is the Director of Harrison Village Childcare in Omaha and has been a child care provider for 15 years. Growing up, Elysia was a babysitter for families in her hometown and knew she was meant to become a child care provider.

Elysia is grateful to be named an Early Childhood Champion. “It means the world! I absolutely love my job and the fact that someone sees how much love I pour into the children every day and went out of their way to nominate me for this award means the world.”

Alicia Lopez | Columbus, NE

June 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Alicia is the owner of Alicia Lopez Child Care in Columbus, NE. She has been a child care provider for over 20 years, and like many in her field, Alicia began her career as a way to stay home with her own children. “They are all grown and moved out and I’m still doing child care, and still love it as much as I did when I started 20 years ago.”

“I’m truly thankful for all my current and past families for allowing me to be part of their child’s life. Each child I have had in care has a very special place in my heart and always will.”

Ana Yumul | Omaha, NE

July 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Ana is the owner of Bella’s Daycare in Omaha, NE. She was born in El Salvador, raised in Los Angeles, and is the first in her family to attend college. Ana began her career as a child care provider as a way to stay at home with her newborn daughter. As her baby grew, she recognized the need for social interactions and decided to open her own child care business.

Ana is honored and humbled to be named an Early Childhood Champion. “It means the world to me because I love what I do, and it feels amazing that someone sees my passion for children. I pour my heart out day in and day out.”

Christina Crawford | Falls City, NE

July 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Christina is the owner of Breezy Hill Childcare in Falls City, NE. Like many others in her profession, Chris started her child care business as a way to stay home with her daughter. She has since been a child care provider for more than 27 years. “As a young mother, I applied for a bank job and received the call that I had been hired; however, I just could not leave my baby.”

Winning this award has made Chris feel appreciated and recognized as a professional in her career. “It means I am doing what I am supposed to do and that I’m appreciated for it. I am so grateful I was chosen for this award! Thank you, thank you, thank you soooo very much!!”

Tasha McNeil | Omaha, NE

August 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Tasha is the owner of Brilliant Brains Learning Center in Omaha, NE. Her passion for helping children stems from growing up as an only child, and she has provided various forms of child care for over 24 years! Tasha’s career in child care began seven years ago, with her first five years as an in-home provider.

Since beginning her career in child care, Tasha has grown to recognize the importance of quality early childhood education. She is proud to give children opportunities that set them up for the rest of their lives. “I love that I get to help prepare children for early childhood, school and beyond!”

Amber Hosch | Blair, NE

August 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Amber is the owner of Sprout Family-Centered Childcare in Blair, NE. Her child care program has been providing in-home care for five years! Along with owning her child care program, Amber has worked in various roles involving child care, including center-based education.

Amber’s passion for early childhood development led to her becoming an in-home child care provider. She says this award and being recognized for her dedication is an honor. “I am so appreciative of my child care families and community for their positive support and continuous encouragement!”

Megan Orr | Omaha, NE

September 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Megan is a preschool teacher at Pacific Heights Early Childhood Center in Omaha, NE, and has worked in child care since graduating high school in 2013. Megan’s early childhood career has progressed through the ranks over the last decade, starting with providing before and after school care, to a pre-k classroom, lead toddler teacher, and eventually, her current role with Pacific Heights ECC.

“I have always wanted to be a positive light in someone’s life, and I absolutely love that it’s with young children. Especially those who will be our future in this world! I love that they teach me just about as much as I teach them.”

Amanda Wemhoff | Columbus, NE

September 2023 Early Childhood Champion

Amanda is the owner of Mandy’s Munchkins Daycare in Columbus, NE. She has over 18 years of experience in Early Childhood Education! Because working with children has always come naturally to Amanda, she was confident that she wanted to pursue an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education after high school.

“Being able to say that you helped children learn the fundamentals and work towards milestone developments is something to be proud of. The connections you form with not only the children but the families in a home child care setting are very strong.”

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