Great Start Collaborative Partner Spotlight: First Steps Kent

Describe your agency.

First Steps Kent is an early childhood non-profit, serving expectant parents and children from birth through five years old in Kent County, Michigan.

We work with parents, community partners, national experts, funders, and elected officials to create a comprehensive, unified early childhood system that improves the school readiness of our youngest citizens.

What do you offer for young children and their families?

In addition to working to strengthen the coordinated early childhood system, First Steps Kent administers the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage. This is the first of its kind in Michigan – a dedicated funding stream for early childhood programs in Kent County. It generates about $6.7 million a year, and since it was passed by voters in November 2018, First Steps Kent has distributed $16 million to 20 agencies and more than 40 programs. Parents can learn more about the programs and services offered through the millage at

First Steps also works to strengthen in-home child care businesses through Mainspring Early Care Alliance. What started as a pilot project, has turned into an implementation of a child care alliance that is working to support and strengthen home-based child care businesses, so they can reinvest time and energy into quality care and education.

How does your organization use parent voice to inform your work?

First Steps Kent believes parents are the experts! Since the onset of the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage, parents have helped decide which programs and services should be funded. We recently added two new parent leaders to the First Steps Kent Board of Commissioners and are constantly working to ensure parents are part of all decision-making and advisory groups.

During 2022, First Steps Kent joined the RAPID EC survey project offered through Stanford University’s Center for Early Childhood. Since April 2020, the national RAPID EC has surveyed parents every month, to learn how they were faring through the pandemic and onward. The survey is continuing to provide meaningful insight into the experience and needs of families as we compare feedback in Kent County to national feedback. Results are shared with early childhood system partners so they can ensure their work is aligned with what parents need.

What do you most appreciate about your GSC membership?

First Steps Kent appreciates the opportunity to connect with partners around initiatives that support systemic change. The Great Start Collaborative of Kent County improves community connectivity as a space to share information and learn from early childhood peers across different sectors. Great Start’s Parent Coalition has been a key catalyst within the community, leading with the idea that parents are the experts in what programs and strategies are needed. If we want programs and initiatives that have an impact, we must embrace and support parent leadership. GSC parents shine in their advocacy skills which they use to lead and support change throughout Kent County.


Funding from the Office of Great Start within the Michigan Department of Education supports the implementation of Great Start.