A Step Ahead Staff

Administrative Staff

Candy Watkins, Executive Director

Tell us about your background and/or education?

Candy Watkins

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!

Family Resources Coordinators

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.

Alyssa Roleke, Family Resources Coordinator

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.

Nellie Ward, EI Coordinator

Nellie Ward

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.

Teachers

Jenn Black, Ed.D., Early Intervention Teacher

Jane Black

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.

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.

Harmony McNelley, M.Ed.

Harmony McNelley

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.

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.

Infant Mental Health

Cassandra Fiorina, Infant Mental Health Therapist

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.

Speech Therapy

David Pozolinski, Speech Therapist

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.

Physical Therapy

Reetu Singh, PT

Reetu Singh

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.



Occupational Therapy

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.