E-Newsletter August 2019

Wild Waves Fright Fest Discount Tickets!

Annual ASAPC Carnival 2019

It’s that time of year again! The A Step Ahead Annual Carnival is scheduled for August 15th. It’s FREE for A Step Ahead Families! See invite below for details. Or reach out to your FRC or Provider or call us at the office for more details.

Congratulations to Teacher Marti!

Super proud of our Marti for winning the 2019 Champions for Children Award from Project Child Success!
Each year, Project Child Success identifies and celebrates people in Pierce County who have made a significant impact in the lives of children and families. These are not just experts or professionals, but people from all walks of life who have made a difference for children and families from our community.
Marti’s superpower is to make children smile with her power of creativity! She’s been serving our children for 16 years… Congratulations Marti!!!

Fund Development

Check back in October for more news on our Fundraising Efforts!


Submitted by Anne Hand, Speech-Language Pathologist & Lindsey Hartman, Early Intervention Teacher

Reading to babies is an intimate, shared experience that boosts development and learning. Making time for story sharing in busy infant settings is essential for children’s vocabulary development and later reading ability. Being intentional about embedding literacy experiences in babies’ everyday routines creates joyful, loving moments in the short-term and builds critical skills in the long-term. Adapted from: National Association for the Education of Young Children (2019). Rocking and Rolling: Reading with babies matters. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/jul2019/reading-with-babies-matters


Contributed by the Family Resources Coordinators at A Step Ahead

Northwest Furniture Bank

Who We Help | NW Furniture Bank provides gently used furniture and household items to families at or below the poverty level struggling with fire, flood, job loss, domestic violence relocation, foster child ageing out, or someone moving from transitional housing. If you are sleeping, eating or living on the floor we want to help provide the items you cannot afford to purchase. We do not replace or upgrade furniture you may already have.
All our furniture is gently used and the inventory changes daily. Each household accessing our services is subject to a $75 processing fee payable at the time of your furniture selection. We ask that you be able to transport the furniture you’ve selected in one trip, at the time of your appointment or utilize our deliver service for an addition fee of $125. For more information on how to access help from NW Furniture Bank, reach out to your ASAPC FRC.

The Grand Cinema in Tacoma does Free Family Flicks the 3rd Saturday of each month. Coming up on August 17th, they will be playing the 80s favorite The Goonies. Doors open at 9:30, and movie starts at 10am. Seating is first-come, first-served. The Grand Cinema welcomes guests of all ages, but all children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult! Click their logo for additional details!

Meet our Board of Directors

Each Month we are going to introduce one member of our board of directors! Stay tuned to meet them all in the upcoming newsletters.

Nancy Scott, Treasurer

How long have you served on the ASAPC Board and what makes our mission meaningful to you?

I have served on the Board for 4½ years.  I value our mission of providing educational and therapy services in the homes of our special needs infants/toddlers.

What is your profession and what skills do you transfer to the board?

I am a retired CPA and was formerly a secondary science teacher.  I worked at ASAP for ten years as the Accountant and Office Manager before retiring in Nov 2013.  My skills as an CPA and ASAPC accountant have provided me with the background to serve on the BOD and as the current Treasurer.  My previous career in education has also provided me with insight into the function and politics of school systems in our county.

If you had unlimited resources, what is the one thing you as a board member would like to do for the population we serve?

I would like to be able to provide more free community and group activities for our clients and their families, including transportation and accessibility support.

In your opinion, what do we do better than anyone else in our field?

I think that ASAPC is the best at providing home-based educational and therapy services to our client population by highly skilled and professional staff personnel.

If you could swap jobs with a staff member for a day, what would you want to try and why?

I wouldn’t want to swap jobs with them, but I would like to shadow one of our therapists to observe how they interact with the children in our programs.

Meet Our Staff

David Pozolinski, Executive Director

Tell us about your background and/or education?

I moved to Washington 21 years ago from Wisconsin; where I grew up. I loved growing up there; however, the winters were just too snowy and cold and the summers were too hot and muggy. I have been practicing as a speech language pathologist assistant for 15 years. I have worked in the public schools and private speech clinics serving ages four through adult with communication challenges. The past 7 years, I have been serving children ages 1-3 in early intervention. This June, I was very excited to begin a new adventure in leading A Step Ahead as the new Executive Director.

Describe a typical “day at the office” for you?

I usually arrive at the office around 8am. That’s pretty much where the typical part ends. Throughout my day, I might take calls from families, community members, and school districts. I have various meetings scheduled daily and many unscheduled meetings; as something unexpected always comes up. The best parts of my day are when our teachers and therapists share the successes of the kiddos they’re seeing! This is the reason we are all here! 

What do you like about ASAPC?

I thoroughly enjoy my coworkers! We all have varied experiences; personal and professional. We are all here for the same purpose, to help support children with special needs and their families and caregivers. Everyone loves to laugh and we are all very supportive of one another.   

Any funny/best stories to share?

Recently, I learned how scary a large empty box could be when one of my coworkers asked me to help her lift a printer into z box to mail to the repair shop. As I approached the box, another coworker sprang out of the box! Needless to say, my heart skipped a few beats!

Lindsey Hartman, Early Intervention Teacher

Tell us about your background and/or education?

I spent my childhood being raised in my mother’s home daycare and working for her as soon as I turned 16 years old. Once I was in college at University of Minnesota Duluth, I worked in the summers in child care centers, special education summer programs, homes for adults with special needs, or foster homes for kids with special needs. In 2012, I completed my Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Unified Early Childhood Studies which allowed me to teach kids birth-8 years old in general education and special education settings. During my Bachelor’s, I also completed a Graduate Certificate in Educational Computing and Technology as well as two Minors in Deaf Studies and Psychology. Then, I worked as an itinerant teacher of the deaf for 3 years in Kotzebue, AK (a small village above the arctic circle) with kids Pre-K to 12th grade while obtaining my Master of Arts in Special Education: Deaf and Hard of Hearing in 2015. Next, I moved to Anchorage, AK to pursue my dreams of working in early intervention at Developmental Therapist/Teacher of the Deaf for infants and toddlers. After three years there, I relocated to the Seattle area for my spouse’s job to work with A Step Ahead as an Early Intervention Teacher starting in January 2019.

Describe a typical “day at the office” for you?

There is no typical day at the office in early intervention. I can usually be found one of two places: getting out the office driving between home visits and community events -or- staying in the office completing evaluations, meetings, and paperwork! Regardless of what the day brings, it is so much fun to work with the families and colleagues of ASAPC.

What do you like about ASAPC?

I enjoy ASAPC because of all the fun people I get to meet and interact with daily. There is such a warm, inviting atmosphere at the office and the people here become more than just your coworkers. We are really one big family through and through!

Any funny/best stories to share?

On my 3rd day of work, I found myself at my first staff meeting surrounded by a room of crying individuals. I was brand new to the office and thought to myself “wow, what’s the deal?!” What happened was, the executive director who hired me announced that she was retiring. It was very shocking at the time, but it didn’t take long to figure out why anyone who was not new wept upon hearing the news. At any other job, I may not have had the same caring experience, but here it was clear that everyone loved Candy for her heart and dedication. Now, the tradition continues with David the new executive director. Lucky for me, there has been much less crying at staff meetings! 😊

Anything else you want to share?

In my spare time, I love to be outdoors camping, hiking, and fishing. At home, I enjoy baking, cooking, scrapbooking, crafting, and sewing. I also teach part-time as an Adjunct professor for the University of Alaska Anchorage Master’s Program for Early Childhood Special Education.

E-Newsletter June 2019

We’re getting a new
Executive Director!

In January, our Founder & Executive Director Candy Watkins announced that she would be retiring on June 30th, 2019. Thus started the search for our new Executive Director. In March, Candy announced to the staff at A Step Ahead that David Pozolinski would be taking over on July 1st. We have all been so excited with this news! David has been at A Step Ahead as a Speech-Language Pathology Assistant for 7 years. This week his new office furniture was delivered, so we thought a ribbon-cutting on his new office would be a fun way to introduce him to the world! We’ll be highlighting more about David in our next newsletter, stay-tuned to learn more about him!

2019 Field Trips

Our 2019 Field Trips have been scheduled! You can check out our Facebook Events Page for all of the details. Or download any of the flyers below for more info!

Fund Development

Contributed by Michelle Smith, Fund Development & Communications Officer

Thank you to all who attended the 2019 STAR WARS Dinner & Auction, because of YOU…It was our most successful event ever! Through the help of all our supporters, the event raised more than $75,000 for the CARES Fund, which covers the costs of uncompensated care, so every child receives the necessary therapeutic support they need.
Our vision is a community that embraces and integrates children of all abilities and treasures the unique gifts each child possesses. A Step Ahead helps over 700 children each year meet their developmental milestones and supports their parents in coping with the stress and hardship of raising a child with special needs. Some studies have shown that it can cost up to 4 times the cost of raising a child without special needs.
This event could not be successful without the generous support from all who attended, volunteers, people and businesses who donated goods and services, and our sponsors!
We deeply appreciate everyone’s commitment to A Step Ahead and for being an advocate for children with special needs!
Please like our Facebook page to stay in touch with everything we’re doing. See you next year!

The Auction Task Force Committee

If you are interested in joining the auction committee or simply sharing your family’s story to inspire other parents, please contact Michelle Smith, Fund Development and Communications Officer michelles@asapc.org.


Contributed by Jenn Black, Early Intervention Teacher
To support the development of finger strength, these strategies are offered by our Occupational Therapist, Evonne Ryken.

Finger Awareness

Imagine yourself buttoning a button, opening a pop bottle or tying your shoes.  Notice the small, separate movements each of your fingers make.  Now imagine how a newborn baby grabs your finger with the whole hand tightening its grasp in one movement.  In three or four short years, that baby will need to develop the same skilled movements that are needed to learn to button, tie and use a pencil.  To help develop the many small muscles of your child’s hands, you can play imitation games like Simon Says including the following actions:

  • Opening and closing the hands into fists
  • Wiggling each finger by itself
  • Bending all fingers at the knuckles
  • Spreading fingers apart and pulling them back together tightly
  • Moving thumbs up and down, wiggling thumbs, moving them in a circle
  • Making circles with the thumb and each fingertip in turn

Hands & Fingers

As a child learns to use his hands and fingers, the thumb side of the hand becomes the “smart” side and the little finger side becomes the “helping” side.  For example, when you write, the little finger steadies and supports the hand while the thumb, index and middle fingers work on the moving the pencil.  To increase the use and skill of the “smart” side of the hand, include these activities often in your child’s day:

  • Building with Duplos
  • Putting clothespins in a milk jug
  • Making sticker pictures
  • Eating dried cereal or raisins out of a small container such as a paper cup or yogurt container
  • Buttoning large buttons
  • Stringing beads or Fruit Loops on a shoelace
  • Putting pennies in a bank
  • Unwrapping small packages such a gum wrappers and Hershey Kisses


Contributed by the Family Resources Coordinators at A Step Ahead
Free Summer Meals for Kids

One in six children struggles with hunger and many children who rely on school meals, struggle to get enough to eat during the summer months. This fact is unacceptable to United Way of Pierce County as well as many local health and human service partners that are fighting hunger. Together, they are helping to provide kids with nutritious food at various sites during the summer months (from June 25-August 30). Click the United Way of Pierce County Logo to visit the website for more info.

Movies in the Park

Grab a blanket and your favorite lawn chair for our Movies in the Park series. We will be offering four different family friendly movies in three different parks throughout the summer on our jumbo screen.  All the movies are FREE and start at dusk. Come early to play for pre-show activities and games at 7 p.m. Concessions on site will also be available provided by Bliss Creamery and Sirius Wood Fired Pizza. Click the Movies in the Park logo to visit the website for more info

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is now Sensory Inclusive

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is now a certified Sensory Inclusive facility, registered with KultureCity. Our staff is trained, and we offer headphones, lap pads and other tools to help guests with sensory needs and challenges have the best experience at the Zoo. And you can bring your caregiver or therapist for free with a paid membership or admission: just mention it at the front gate. Click on the Point Defiance Zoo logo to visit their website for more info!

Meet Our Staff!

Contributed by Harmony McNelley, Early Intervention Teacher

Jaime Jones

Family Resources Coordinator & Early Intervention Teacher

Tell us about your background and/or education? I have been in the special education field for 20 years and have taught all ages from birth to 21 years old. My passion has always been to work with children with disabilities and their families. Since I was about 5 years old I knew I would be a special education teacher and I started my ‘experience’ as being a best friend to my cousin who has Down Syndrome. I finished my schooling at Central Washington University earning a dual Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education and Elementary Education. Later on I completed my National Board Certification in Special Education as well.
Describe a typical “day at the office” for you? Typically you won’t find me in the office, but you will find me in my car or at my home office in Orting.  I have a dual role as an early intervention teacher as well as a Family Resources Coordinator. I see anywhere from 7 to 10 kids in their homes weekly and coordinate services for another 20+ families in Orting.
What do you like about ASAPC? Hands down, the relationships I am able to build with families is my favorite part of working at A Step Ahead. I love connecting with families on a daily basis either as their weekly teacher or their ‘go to’ as an FRC. The most amazing feeling is when I leave a home knowing that something I was able to say or do, or sometimes just listen to, has made a difference for that child or parent if even for a moment.
Anything else you want to share? I am a busy teacher/FRC as well as mom of five children ages 6 to 16 years old. My cousin, who I mentioned earlier, lives with us and is a great ‘big brother’ to my children. We live in the woods and have a total of 10 animals! When I’m not working I’m planning and doing fun things with my kids, usually outdoors.

Lesa Bauche

Early Intervention Teacher

Tell us about your background and/or education? I began volunteer work with children with special needs my senior year in high school. I knew that this was what I wanted to continue to pursue and went on to receive my degree in special education from the University of North Texas. Taking a short break between degrees, I spent a summer in Cancun, Mexico where I met my husband. We spent the next 18 years in Cancun where I tutored children both in English and academically. Missing my country and cooler weather, we settled in the Pacific Northwest. I worked as a Spanish interpreter for a while where I often interpreted for A Step Ahead. It was then that I realized how much I missed working with the children and was lucky enough to join the family at A Step Ahead as a home-based teacher.
Describe a typical “day at the office” for you? There are no typical days at the office with early intervention. Each day brings a new experience. I am on the motor team which assesses the needs of children who have been referred to A Step Ahead for evaluation. When visiting the homes of the children I see on a regular basis, there is always something new. A new word spoken, a new task mastered or just to talk about progress and concerns with the parents. Each day brings its new rewards and challenges.
What do you like about ASAPC? I love the fact that there is a variety of staff with different specialties and backgrounds all available for collaborating on new ideas or strategies. As we work most often in the homes of our children, we are given a chance to work with the whole family. It’s always fun to get brothers and sisters involved in the activities and provides a chance to apply strategies that relate to their day to day routines.

Evonne Ryken

Occupational Therapy

Tell us about your background and/or education? I earned my Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy at the University of North Dakota and my Masters in Education in 2003 from Lesley University.  I have been working as an occupational therapist for 43 years and have worked in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana and Washington.
Describe a Typical “day at the office” for you? I have the pleasure of working with children and their families during most of my work days.  The rest of the time, I am trying to keep up with the paper work!
What do you like about ASAPC? I enjoy the home based services that ASAPC provides because I can assist the families in knowing how to help their child participate in all of the family activities.  I also enjoy the collaboration with and mutual respect for other ASAPC staff.
Any funny/best stories to share? As we moved from state to state, there were always several boxes marked “Mommy’s work toys”.  It was always easy to keep my sons happy in the car because their were so many toys to keep them busy.  One night, my young son didn’t want to go to bed and offered:  “If you let me stay up late, I will let you take one of my toys to work tomorrow!”  Now I get to share my toys with my granddaughter!

E-Newsletter April 2019

Employment Opportunities

We currently have an open position at A Step Ahead in Speech Therapy. If you’re looking for a fun, energetic and diverse team of professionals who share your passion for helping infants and toddlers, you’ve found us! Click here to go strait to our employment page, or click the following links for downloadable information.

Fund Development

Contributed by: Michelle Smith, Fund Development & Communications Officer

May the Fourth be with you and May YOU be with us on the Fourth!

Join us for our largest fundraising event of the year and help Support Families of Children with Special Needs and become One with the Force on May 4th, 2019 at the Landmark Convention Center in Tacoma. Enjoy a Silent and Live auction – Drinks and Dinner – Character Photos and Light-years of fun!

Our annual auction helps support the CARES Fund, which covers the cost of uncompensated care, so every child receives the necessary therapeutic support they need. For more information contact Michelle Smith at 253-471-2727 or michelles@asapc.org.

Get your Early Bird ticket specials $55 per person, $400 for a table of 8 ONLY until April 1st (no joke)

Huge thank you to Northwest Motorsport who is our Presenting Event Sponsor!

Do have a gift card you haven’t used? Drop it by the office! We can add it to our silent auction. Or perhaps, you know a business who wants to donate to our auction. We can provide a tax donation form. Just contact Michelle Smith michelles@asapc.org


Contributed by: A Step Ahead’s Team of Occupational & Physical Therapists

From OT:

Get down to eye level with the child; doing so will support the relationship between adult and child plus offer a chance to see the world from the child’s perspective

When teaching a child to use a spoon, place a bit of peanut butter on the spoon and give it to the child to practice. The peanut butter will stick to the spoon and allow the child multiple tries to move the spoon to the mouth

From PT:

Adults should try the movement activities and patterns themselves prior to practicing with the child.  Doing so will provide guidance about where the adult is to place their hands to support the child and help the adult understand the movement pattern.


Contributed by: A Step Ahead’s Team of Family Resources Coordinators

PCICC Spring Resource Fair

Join A Step Ahead’s Family Resources Coordinators at the Pierce County Interagency Coordinating Council’s SPRING RESOURCE FAIR. April 10th from 10am to Noon at the Boys & Girls Club (3875 South 66th St in Tacoma)

Come and visit our fir to learn about various resources activities and supports available in Pierce County for families with children with special healthcare needs, disabilities or learning concerns.

Download the flyer here for more info!

AMC Theatres Sensory Friendly Films

AMC is proud to partner with the Autism Society to offer unique movie showings where we turn the lights up, and turn the sound down, so you can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing! Our Sensory Friendly Film program is available on the second and fourth Saturday (family-friendly) and Tuesday evenings (mature audiences) of every month. Please check your local theatre listings for specific showtimes, and don’t forget to share your family fun with #AMCSensoryFriendly.

2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember phone number for people to call for health and human service information and referrals and other assistance to meet their needs.

Meet Our Staff

Candy Watkins, Executive Director

Tell us about your background and/or education?

I spent my high school and college years in Ohio where I got my degree in Deaf Education.  Shortly after graduation, I moved to Washington State but was unable to find a full-time teaching position.  I ended up working in the auction industry for 15 years, leaving my teaching dreams behind me.  However, working with children with special needs continued to call me, and in 1990 I learned about the early intervention world.  I knew that this was where I wanted to be! I became a home-based teacher for 10 years in Pierce County thoroughly enjoying all the kids and families I met.

However, I began to recognize the need to help bring more therapy to young children in their natural environments. Luckily, I was able to get a contract to start a third agency in the community to serve about 50 children.  Another teacher I was working with at the time joined me as I opened up A Step Ahead on October 1, 2001.  (10/1/01 – auspicious!) 9 months later, one of the other early intervention programs closed and we suddenly found ourselves hiring enough staff to serve 100 children!  We have continued to grow since then and now have a staff of 40 and serve over 300 children each month – definitely NOT my original vision, but I am proud of all the help we have given Pierce County families for 17 years and have enjoyed working with and learning from so many talented employees.

Describe a typical “day at the office” for you?

Although there are always plenty of administrative tasks to do around here, I have enjoyed continuing to teach a small number of children.  Seeing the children develop and getting to know their parents and families has always given me the most joy.  I also enjoy working on a variety of committees and task forces, including Pierce County Interagency Council, Project Child Success, and our state agency (ESIT)’s Personnel and Training Committee.

What do you like about ASAPC?

I love working around all these dedicated and fun-loving people! We all share a love of children and families and I never tire of hearing stories about successful home visits. We also like to laugh which helps the days go by quickly!

Any funny/best stories to share?

I love to be outside when the weather is nice and have tried to have our offices where we could at least enjoy our lunch outdoors.  Our first office was on the second floor of an old office building on S. Tacoma Way.  On sunny days, we would pass folding chairs out an office window and sit on the flat roof to eat our lunches!

Anything else you want to share?

We currently have several positions available.  If you are a therapist looking for a wonderful place to work, give us a call! Click here to visit our Employment Page!

Chelsea Siler, BOOST Coordinator

Tell us about your background and/or education?

I’ve been an early childhood special education teacher for 5 years, and prior to that, was a school psychologist in Washington and Oregon for 6 years.  Working in early intervention feels like the perfect fit- it is a joy to get to do this work with families and watch young children learn and develop.  Within this field, I am particularly interested in language development as well as infant/toddler mental health. At A Step Ahead, where I’ve worked for 2.5 years, I recently started overseeing the BOOST program, and working primarily with children who are in foster care. 

What do you like about ASAPC?

I love working with people who are as inspired by the kids and families that we work with as I am.  Our staff are positive, creative and supportive of each other.  We have a variety of professional experiences and backgrounds, and I constantly am learning new things from my co-workers.

Anything else you want to share?

Outside of work, I love to travel (16 countries, 36 states, and counting!), cook, hike and read.  I’m a competitive rower, and am also training for a cycling trip in Italy this spring.

Megan Brooks, Early Intervention Teacher

Tell us about your background and/or education?

       I have been working in Early Childhood for over 12 years, 9 of them in Preschool settings such as Head Start and Universal/Public Pre-K through the school districts. I moved my family back to Washington in 2016, which is where I found A Step Ahead and fell absolutely in love with the birth to three age group!

I was home schooled from 2nd grade through my senior year in high school, which coincidentally laid the perfect foundation for home-based early intervention! I participated in Running Start through Pierce College, and then earned my Bachelors degree in Special Education from a very small Environmental Arts college in central Vermont (my graduating class was just over 100 students), graduating at the ripe old age of 20. I am currently in the final year of my Master in Teaching degree through City University of Seattle, working towards dual licensure in elementary education as well as P-12 Special Education.

Describe a typical “day at the office” for you?

I live out towards the south end of our service area, and so I do much of my paperwork remotely from home or in the study rooms at local libraries. I work with lots of families who live out in the more rural areas such as Roy, Eatonville, Orting, and even Ashford. Usually I pass through the office in the early mornings before anyone else comes in- I enjoy the quiet! Aside from normal staff meetings though, I tend to be a pretty rare sight most days.

What do you like about ASAPC?

I love the family-style culture at ASAPC. The staff here are supportive and nurturing, both to each other and to the families that we serve. On any given day, there are multiple opportunities for problem solving and collaboration as we explore new strategies and activities to support children in their development. Working for ASAPC has been an experience like no other that I have ever encountered, and after working with the families and staff in this setting, I cannot picture myself ever going back to a classroom setting!

Anything else you want to share?

Fun facts most people don’t know about me:

I actually am a trained and accomplished musician. I started playing the Piano and singing when I was 3 years old. I also played the Viola, Clarinet, and drums with the Puyallup School District and played in a hand-bell choir through my senior year of High School. I have performed across the United States, and even did a Choral tour through Wales and England  both singing and accompanying the Concert Choir and Madrigal group!

My original plan after finishing my undergraduate degree, was to pursue a career in Pediatric Music Therapy! I was accepted to a competitive Masters/Licensure program at Drexel University…until my husband and I decided that Philadelphia would not be a great fit for our (then) 2 toddlers.

A Step Ahead E-Newsletter February 2019

Fund Development

Items needed for the upcoming Auction

Who do you know….

Do you know of a vacation spot that is just amazing? Or a timeshare that is beautiful? Do you have a friend that can offer an incredible “experience” either on a boat, helicopter or in a plane? Do you have a friend that can offer a gift certificate?

If so…we are looking to YOU to help us secure some great items for our Silent and Live Auction!

A Few ideas:

  1. Do you know a Pilot? How about a one-hour private plane flight over the shore or over the winner’s house. Take an aerial shot of your home!
  2. Do you know someone who works or owns a restaurant? How about asking for a donation as a gift certificate?
  3. Do you have a connection somewhere? How about asking them to provide a good or service as a donation? (Salon, Barber, Spa, Café, Car wash, massage, etc.)
  4. Do you know a musician? How about music for your next party?
  5. Do you know someone who play’s Santa? How about reserving him for next holiday?
  6. Know a Wine OR Beer connoisseur? How about getting some limited-edition beverages for a devoted wine or beer lover!
  7. Do you know a News Anchor Person or someone who works for T.V./Radio? How about a Behind-the-scenes tour?
  8. Season Ticket Holder???
  9. Know a fisherman? How about fishing trip for 3-4 people?
  10. Do you know a chef? Private dinner for 4?
  11. Know someone at the City? How about arranging a behind the scenes tour at the 911 Command Central?
  12. Know someone who owns a Pet Day Care? How about a doggie pamper day?
  13. Know someone who has a house near the Ocean? How about a get-away for a weekend?
  14. Know someone who is writing a novel? How about becoming a character in their next book?
  15. Enjoy Tee Time? How about Golf Lessons and Beer?
  16. Have a friend who wants to donate Signed Memorabilia?
  17. Do you know a firefighter or a police officer? Ride Home in a Fire Truck: a lucky kid gets picked up from school for a special ride home in a ladder truck or police car!

Please contact Michelle Smith michelles@asapc.org for questions or pick-up arrangements. Thank you for all your support!

Strategies: From our Speech Therapy Team

To help your child become more attentive to speech and language, our team of speech/language pathologists (SLPs) often suggest holding items near the face while saying the word of the object.  For example, the caregiver holds a ball to the side of his face while he says “ball.”  When the child attends to the movement of the caregiver’s mouth while listening to the word, the concept of a ball is understood, and it will be easier for the child imitate the word.  As this strategy is used consistently, the child will learn to pay attention to the caregiver’s face and connect what is said with the name for objects then attempt to imitate new words.


Call the Family Health Hotline 1-800-322-2588

We can help you understand and apply for a variety of food and health resources in Washington state, including:

  • WIC (Women, Infants & Children Nutrition Program)
  • Basic Food (Food Stamps)
  • Health Insurance for children, pregnant women and adults
  • Birth control through the Take Charge Program
  • Health and family planning clinics
  • Developmental screenings
  • Pregnancy and baby supplies
  • Breastfeeding support
  • Food banks
  • and much more …

We’re available Monday-Thursday 8:00-5:30 and Friday 8:00-5:00

  • Bilingual staff speak Spanish
  • Other languages are served using interpreters via AT&T Language Line
  • No quotas or time limits, so we can talk as long as you like to connect you to the services you need
  • We can screen you and start applications over the phone or provide you with information and a quick referral—it’s up to you!

Tax Assistance

United Way of Pierce County, in partnership with Associated Ministries is committed to moving families to financial stability. We want families to keep the money they have worked so hard for and make the most of their tax return. There are two ways to get help with taxes.


One of the ways we are helping families do this is by connecting them to free tax preparation and tax credits that are available to eligible families.  For households making less than $66,000 a year, they can access MyFreeTaxes.com to file their taxes for free. The site provides easy, fast, secure federal and state tax filing online through software partner, H&R Block.

Local Tax Assistance

South Sound 2-1-1 is also partnering with Pierce County Asset Building Coalition to provide tax help for low-income families. For households making less than $54,000, they can get free tax assistance and file for free at one of 20 sites throughout Pierce County from late January through April. Volunteers will prepare client taxes free of charge, determine if they qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and find other credits to boost their bottom line. To find a site near you, dial 2-1-1.

Meet Our Staff

Nellie Ward, EI Coordinator

Graduated in 1997 from Washington State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology with an emphasis in Social Work. My first professional position after college was as an Independent Contractor with DSHS. In this position I transported foster children to and from counseling sessions and to visits with their bio parents where I also provided supervision. Also, as an Independent Contractor I provided long term in-home care to two children who had significant developmental disabilities.

I was in this position for about 2 years before I went on to take a position as a Family Support Specialist in a long-term drug and alcohol residential treatment facility for women and children (ages 0-5). I provided parenting support to the women as well as assisting with daily living skills. I was in this position briefly before moving into an administrative position at the same facility as the Adult Case Manager. My responsibilities were to assist the residents with applying for benefits, secure permanent housing for after treatment, connect them to resources for clothing, legal support, and education. I was in this position for 9 years before I moved into the position of Family Resource Coordinator at Pierce County Human Services in 2008. I was an FRC at Pierce County for 4 years and then moved to Puyallup School District where I continued as an FRC for 5 years. I transitioned into the position of EI Coordinator at A Step Ahead in 2017 and have enjoyed the culture and collaborative atmosphere here. We are lucky to have a fantastic team of like-minded professionals who always have the needs of the children we serve on the forefront of their minds. In my spare time I like to run with my children, roller skate, and lift weights!

Harmony McNelley, M.Ed.

Harmony began her adventures in the field of special education after she began nannying for a family who had a toddler with autism while a freshman in college. She underwent training and become an ABA therapist for the next four years.  In 2000 she graduated from WWU with a BA in psychology. She then went on to attend UW graduate school and worked as an assistant teacher in the EEU integrated kindergarten, preschool, and Baby DATA Project.

She graduated from the UW in 2003 with a master’s degree in Early childhood special education and was hired by Auburn School district as a special education kindergarten teacher.
After having twin girls in 2010, she stayed home with her twin daughters and 4-year-old son. In 2013 she found a new home at ASAPC; where she does eligibility evaluations, IFSPs, and cherishes her time working with children and families in their homes and in the community.
When not at work, Harmony enjoys exploring the PNW with her children, reading, paddle boarding, yoga, and spending time with her friends.

Reetu Singh, PT

Reetu is an Early Intervention Physical Therapist and has been working in the field for just over a year. She is very early on in her career but brings experience from working with children with special needs during graduate school and post-graduate continuing education courses, such as NDT, to the families she serves.

Reetu loves being able to educate her families and feels a sense of fulfillment after each therapy session. Outside of work, Reetu loves cooking, going on long walks, and traveling to new places.



Contributed by: 
Michelle Smith, Fund Developer & Communications Officer


Plan to Join us on a date not so far, far away…Saturday May 4, 2019 at Tacoma’s Landmark Convention Center as we support families of children with special needs and become One with the Force! This fun and exciting night is our largest fundraising event of the year! Silent and Live Auction, Dinner and Drinks, Character Photos…a night not to be missed!
Visit asapc.org and our Facebook site in January for more information.

Annual Report:

Recently released our 2018 Annual Report 

Inspire Others

Recently we featured a beautiful girl with Downs in our Annual Report. Sammy has been receiving services with A Step Ahead since she was four months old. Today, she is bubbling with joy and her bright eyes are as captivating as her smile is contagious. Sammy’s parents wanted to share their experience to help other parents: 
“You are not alone. Having a child with special needs can be challenging but it’s what you make of it! We know – it’s easy to feel isolated, but there is hope and help. Sammy fills our days with love and life, we couldn’t imagine our lives any other way. Truly a blessing” – Aaron and Patricia

Did you know that parents/caregivers can be inspired by your story? Learning about challenges that other families face can be a source of inspiration for parents with similar experiences.

We are currently interviewing families, if interested please email Michelle at michelles@asapc.org or call 253-471-2727.


Contributed by:
Jenn Black, Early Intervention Teacher

Share vs. Wait

The holiday season often brings many gatherings with family and friends. For toddlers, the holiday season can bring many tantrums due to difficulties related to sharing with family and friends. Sharing is a very difficult concept for toddlers to understand and accept. Well-meaning adults often try to help when a sharing struggle happens; however, it can backfire, and the toddlers learn the exact opposite of what we intend! Consider the familiar scenario:
Two children want to play with the same toy. Both have their hands on the toy and are pushing, pulling and yelling “mine!” This escalates until one child has the toy and the other is empty-handed; which leads to hurt feelings and the unspoken new roles of “possessive child” and “insulted child.” A nearby well-meaning adult witnesses the sharing struggle and wants to help the insulted child. The adult takes the toy from the possessive child while saying, “You have to share the toys!” and gives it to the insulted child. Both children respond to the well-meaning adult’s intervention, but neither is satisfied with their new understanding of the word “share.” A simple construction of the new meaning might be: “share means not mine.” As sharing struggles are replayed this way, the new meaning of “share” becomes learned as a negative concept which causes the toddlers to continue the struggle when told to share their toys.
Adults who want to help toddlers cope with the expectations for sharing can try changing their own words and actions. Try to replace the word “share” with the word “wait.” Waiting is a more concrete concept than sharing because “wait” is learned to mean “I get a turn, but not right now.” The adult can demonstrate what to do WHILE waiting by talking about waiting and distracting the toddler with another toy. Use the child’s name and describe what is happening, for example:
“Jack is playing with the red truck, so Jill has to wait. Waiting is hard, and you can do hard things! Jill can play with the bus while waiting for the red truck.”
The adult that talks about waiting and distracts Jill by remaining close will send unspoken messages to both Jack and Jill that the wish to play with the red truck is equally important. Jack will understand the message that he gets a turn to play with the truck. Jill will probably not like waiting but she may be distracted by the adult’s attention. The adult can help the toddlers trade toys and shift attention to Jack, so he gets a turn to wait and be distracted. It might be said like this:
“It’s now Jill’s turn to play with the red truck. Let’s trade – that’s right, Jack gives the red truck to Jill and Jack can have a turn to play with the bus.”

Waiting, taking turns and sharing are LIFELONG skills! Consider how many times a day you wait while at stop lights, in the grocery line, at the post office or for an appointment with your doctor. We can help our children by showing them how to wait as toddlers so that they can eventually become developmentally appropriate preschoolers who learn to share! 


Harmony McNelley, Early Intervention Teacher

Maurene Kosko, Family Resources Coordinator

Maurene is a Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) with A Step Ahead. Maurene earned her degree in Early Childhood Education and worked as a preschool teacher for over 17 years. She has run and operated her own preschool, had positions as a teacher in Headstart and ECEAP as well as working in Special Education Classrooms for Local area school districts.
Through working with children with special needs and their families, Maurene grew more passionate about this population. One of her main goals is to teach, encourage and support families so that they are able to advocate for their child’s learning and get their needs met.
Transitioning into a role as an FRC was the perfect opportunity for her- she is still able to be involved with children by watching them succeed and grow. In her spare time, she loves to hike, travel and explore, and spend time with her family and friends.

Amber Fessler, Occupational Therapist

Amber graduated from the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND and has worked as a pediatric OT for 13 years.  She has been with A Step Ahead Pierce County for one year and loves to help support families and children to be the best they can be.  She has special interests and extended education in sensory processing, vision rehabilitation, vestibular rehabilitation, feeding and reflex integration.  In her spare time, she enjoys camping and fishing with her family, playing with her kids and knitting. TIP: You yourself can often be the best therapeutic tool.  By adjusting your arousal state, or state of being, you can help another person feel more calm and secure or you can wake their body and mind up.  Self-awareness of your own energy level is key to knowing how it can affect others.

Jenn Black, Ed.D., Early Intervention Teacher

Jenn is a Washington State licensed special education teacher who has served families of children with disabilities for 20 years. Her professional interests include: hearing loss, language development, play skills and parent education. She is grateful to all the families who invite her into their lives and feels blessed to play with infants and toddlers as her work.

Inaugural A STEP AHEAD E-Newsletter

Hello and welcome to the introductory e-newsletter!
The intention of this e-newsletter is to provide helpful information about our agency and services. Each edition of the newsletter will include current information related to: our dedicated team of people, community resources, family-friendly events, strategies to support child development and opportunities for donation. Please read through the Meet the Staff section to learn about our team of specialists, teachers, therapists and staff who are the heart of our agency. Find out where to go and who to talk to in your community for help, information and family-friendly outings in the Community Resources section. If you are searching for ideas and information about child development, check out the Strategies and Tips section. Finally, if you want to know about our funding sources and how you can donate, please read the Fund Development section. We are excited to offer this e-newsletter and hope it is helpful and informative!

Fund Development

No matter the scope of the delay, A Step Ahead is compassionately committed to improving the development of all infants and toddlers in South Pierce County. Each family receives the maximum services their child needs regardless of their ability to pay.

Our multi-disciplinary team is comprised of Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapists; Special Educators; Social Workers, Infant Mental Health Specialists; and Family Resource Coordinators. Did you know, according to a recent study on early education as an economic investment, shows that every $1 spent on early intervention services saves $17 to society in future cost? Such an investment equates to thousands of saved dollars just in one generation!

Many of our services are reimbursed by federal, state, and local dollars; however, insurance reimbursements cover only 26% of billed services. Additionally, more than 55% of our families are on public insurance which pays a fraction of the true cost. Families with private insurance often need financial assistance as they struggle to meet their high co-pays and deductibles.

To help with all these unrecovered costs, the CARES Fund was established. This fund helps to cover the costs of uncompensated care, so every child receives the necessary therapeutic support they so desperately need. Donations from this fund includes other wrap-around services, such as our community-based field trips and play groups; as well as therapy and teaching supplies and equipment.

Furthermore, A Step Ahead is the only agency in the region to offer specialized early intervention care to any infant or toddler in foster care. Our BOOST supports both the child and foster parent through the difficult transition out of traumatic abuse and into safety. The BOOST program is entirely dependent on generous donations and grants.

If you would like to contribute to the CARES Fund or BOOST program, you may do so by donating online through our website or on our Facebook site. Thank you for all your continued support!

Community Resources


Looking for resources around Pierce County? Dial 211 to get connected with a statewide resources network for health and human services, all with an easy to remember phone number. With information on health, housing, food, and material goods, 211 is a one-stop shop that locates relevant resources for you and your family. Simply give them a call, provide a few details to help determine eligibility and they can send you a list of community programs that best align with your needs.

Childcare Aware

Childcare Aware is a great option for families looking for high-quality child care. They work with you to find a licensed childcare option that best meets your family’s needs. With a few details from you, Childcare Aware can put together a customized list of childcare centers in your area that fits your family’s unique set of preferences. Their website also has a great resources page that covers community resources, childcare subsidies and child development. Services are available in all languages.

Pierce County Energy Assistance

Families can get help paying winter heating bills Pierce County’s Energy Assistance Program. The EAP assists families with costs by paying heating bills directly to utility companies. A limited pool of funding is available for the 2018 season. For more information and to determine your eligibility, give them a call (855) 798-HEAT.

Center for Strong Families

The Center for Strong Families’ motto is “Earn It, Keep It, Grow It.” Their team takes a two-pronged approach to helping Pierce County families improve their economic situation. They work to grow your income potential by connecting you to employment opportunities while providing financial counseling to help you best manage your income. Services are free and are offered in partnership with the Bethel School District, Sound Outreach and United Way of Pierce County. For more information, give them a call at 253-719-3079.

Strategies & Tips


Meet Our Staff


Alyssa is an East Coast transplant who has worked as a Family Resource Coordinator with A Step Ahead since May 2017. She has a B.A. in Communications and worked in childcare for over 8 years, working directly with children as well as growing into leadership roles and focusing on program development. She has worked in non-profit for over 5 years and finds it an extremely rewarding calling. She has a passion for working with children and families and enjoys her role as an FRC because she loves being able to work alongside families to support and empower them. In her spare time, Alyssa loves to bake, create DIY projects and travel.


Hi, I’m Cassandra! I am the team’s Infant Mental Health Therapist. I received my master’s degree from the University of Washington in 2015 with a certificate in infant mental health. I have worked with all ages in the past in a community mental health clinic, but love working with our 0-3 population! Spending time with caregivers and children, brainstorming ideas for challenging behaviors, holding the child’s experience in mind and finding new ways to learn through play are some of my favorite things about my job. I have been trained in various treatment models including Promoting First Relationships, Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Play Therapy and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy.


I have been practicing as a speech language pathologist assistant for 15 years. I have worked in the public schools and private speech clinics serving ages four through adult with communication challenges. The past 6 years, I have been serving children ages 1-3 in early intervention. My specialty is Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC). We use AAC to assist those with limited verbal communication (e.g. pictures, sign language, devices, etc.). Recently, I received my Infant Mental Health Specialist endorsement from the state of Washington to better serve our children and their families. I gravitated to early intervention for two main reasons: the great progress made by the kiddos at this age and the opportunity to work with the child’s family and caregivers. When I’m not at the office, I enjoy traveling and playing music.