Mission | Children First

Mission & History


In 1961, the Junior League of Sarasota, formerly the Junior Welfare League of Sarasota, founded the Sarasota Day Nursery. Its mission was to prepare children from low-income families for Kindergarten. Their work changed lives and built a strong foundation. The organization became Sarasota County’s exclusive provider of Head Start in 1994 and Early Head Start in 1998.

Following a name change to Children First in 2000, the organization grew rapidly, driven by the high demand for quality early childhood education and family strengthening programs within economically vulnerable communities. Children First proudly merged with the historic Helen R. Payne Day Nursery, formerly the Newtown Day Nursery, in 2004.

Children First is honored to serve children and strengthen families. Our continuous commitment to the mission has been made possible by our generous community and for that we are deeply grateful.

  • 1961Sarasota Day Nursery Founded by the Junior Welfare League

    1962 - Sarasota Day Nursery Founded by the Junior Welfare League
  • 1993Appointed Head Start Grantee for Sarasota County

    1993 - Appointed Head Start Agency
  • 1995Approximately 180 Children Served Daily

    1995 - Approximately 180 Children Served Daily
  • 1998Became Appointed Early Head Start Grantee for Sarasota County

    1998 - Became Appointed Early Head Start Agency in Sarasota County
  • 2004Families First Institute

    2004 - Families First Institute
  • 2005Helen R. Payne

    2005 - Helen R. Payne
  • 2007North Port

    2007 - North Port
  • 2010Received NHSA Program of Excellence Award

    2010 - Received NHSA Program of Excellence Award
  • 2012Opened Facility in Venice

    2012 - Opened Facility in Venice
  • 2021Present

    Today Children First operates in 15 sites throughout Sarasota County & serves approximately 900 children and their families each year.

    50% of a child’s weekly nutrition is supplied by Children First

    2015 - Present