South Carolina First Steps Awards $17,664,476 in Grants to Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Readiness

COLUMBIA, S.C.– South Carolina First Steps has awarded its largest funding amount in more than 15 years - $17,664,476 in grants to its network of 46 local First Steps partnerships. A combination of state, federal and private dollars, the funds will directly impact more than 30,000 children and will expand parenting programs, increase the quality of child care, support positive transitions between early childhood and elementary school, and improve the health of South Carolina’s youngest citizens.
The state’s largest funder of early childhood programs in every county, South Carolina First Steps was able to award both $14,435,228 in state funding to all 46 local First Steps partnerships, plus $3,229,248 in federal, state, and private funds in targeted and competitive grant funding to help 44 counties expand and add new programs that successfully prepare children for school.
Georgia Mjartan, Executive Director of South Carolina First Steps notes, “Investing public dollars in early childhood provides the greatest rate of return. For every dollar spent, we can track between $4 and $16 in societal benefits. The $17.6 million we are investing today will produce an economic impact of as much as $282 million for South Carolina. We are incredibly grateful to South Carolina’s legislature and Governor Henry McMaster for their vision for a healthy, thriving future for all children.”
South Carolina First Steps supports and funds a network of 46 county-level nonprofits. Each “local partnership” has a board made up of community leaders who employ an Executive Director and local staff. The partnerships run programs for families directly or in partnership with other local entities including school districts, child care centers, libraries, and museums. The grants awarded by South Carolina First Steps are matched with local philanthropic dollars and in-kind support, resulting in an even greater impact.
Children who participate in First Steps programs are 74% more likely to score at the highest level on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (given to all entering Kindergartners) and are 34% less likely to be chronically absent from school. National and state-level research provides evidence that these programs work to ensure children are safe, healthy, and ready for school.
Highlights of this historic investment include:
• Funding is expected to nearly double the number of children and families able to be served in the coming program year, compared to the current year.

• 50% more children will be enrolled in “high-intensity” programs, where families engage with the program on a regular, sustained basis, resulting in the greatest impact on children’s long-term success.

• 1700 rising kindergartners across 28 counties will have a better start to their first year in school thanks to expansion of Countdown to Kindergarten, a program where the child’s future kindergarten teacher visits them and their family at home and at school six times over the summer.

• 38 AmeriCorps members will be recruited, trained, and deployed across 18 counties to provide family and community outreach and support and parent education using the HIPPY model (Home Instruction Program for Parents of Preschool Youngsters).

First Steps is now recruiting applicants across the state for a 10-month term of AmeriCorps service beginning September 3. An online application is available at
For the state fiscal year that began July 1, 2021, the South Carolina General Assembly allocated $14.4 million in Education Improvement Act funding for local First Steps partnerships. The First Steps AmeriCorps program is funded by a three-year grant from the United Way Association of South Carolina. Additional funding for local First Steps partnerships comes from the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5), a federal grant awarded to the South Carolina Department of Social Services by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, and from private and philanthropic grants and contributions. South Carolina First Steps is a primary partner for the PDG B-5 grant and provides 100% of the required state matching funds.
Additional funding for the expansion of Countdown to Kindergarten 2021 was made possible by supplemental Education Improvement Act (EIA) funding from the South Carolina Department of Education.
Below is a list of the grantees, their funded programs and AmeriCorps positions, and the total value of their awards. Detailed information by county is available by contacting the local First Steps office or Betty Gardiner, Director of Grantmaking and Development, at
Abbeville First Steps: $200,000
Aiken First Steps: $440,522
Allendale First Steps: $201,000
Anderson First Steps: $426,787
Bamberg First Steps: $275,100
Barnwell First Steps: $222,100, 1 AmeriCorps Member
Beaufort First Steps: $567,774
Berkeley First Steps: $806,630, 3 AmeriCorps Members
Calhoun First Steps: $210,800, 1 AmeriCorps Member
Charleston First Steps: $982,196
Cherokee First Steps: $211,500
Chester First Steps: $201,000
Chesterfield First Steps: $201,000
Clarendon First Steps: $209,100
Colleton First Steps: $285,581
Darlington First Steps: $223,020, 1 AmeriCorps Member
Dillon First Steps: $291,500, 1 AmeriCorps Member
Dorchester First Steps: $379,589, 1 AmeriCorps Member
Edgefield First Steps: $211,000
Fairfield First Steps: $217,200
Florence First Steps: $437,610
Georgetown First Steps: $201,000, 1 AmeriCorps Member
Greenville First Steps: $1,125,744
Greenwood First Steps: $250,538
Hampton First Steps: $212,150, 2 AmeriCorps Members
Horry First Steps: $746,725, 3 AmeriCorps Members
Jasper First Steps: $215,982, 1 AmeriCorps Member
Kershaw First Steps: $218,900
Lancaster First Steps: $246,775, 1 AmeriCorps Member
Laurens First Steps: $203,400
Lee First Steps: $224,408, 2 AmeriCorps Members
Lexington First Steps: $862,556
McCormick First Steps: $203,500
Marion First Steps: $255,250, 3 AmeriCorps Members
Marlboro First Steps: $218,600, 2 AmeriCorps Members
Newberry First Steps: $293,325, 2 AmeriCorps Members
Oconee First Steps: $213,500
Orangeburg First Steps: $384,807, 2 AmeriCorps Members
Pickens First Steps: $392,041
Richland First Steps: $1,319,432, 4 AmeriCorps Members
Saluda First Steps: $201,000
Spartanburg First Steps: $828,917
Sumter First Steps: $369,810
Union First Steps: $204,500
Williamsburg First Steps: $223,600, 2 AmeriCorps Members
York First Steps: $847,004

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South Carolina First Steps is both a nonprofit and state agency and is the only statewide, dedicated comprehensive early childhood agency in South Carolina focused on getting children ages birth through five ready for school and life success.

Established in 1999 by the South Carolina General Assembly to close the gap on students’ preparedness for success in school, South Carolina First Steps takes a holistic approach to accomplishing its mission of preparing all children for success in school, work and life, offering services that improve children’s health, strengthen families, expand access to quality child care, increase participation in four-year-old kindergarten programs and help transition rising kindergartners into school.


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