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.

Incorporated as Sarasota Day Nursery by Junior League of Sarasota. Tuition was one dollar per day.

Children First awarded the status of Head Start grantee for Sarasota County serving approximately 180 preschoolers

Became Appointed Early Head Start Grantee for Sarasota County

Children First launched the Families First Institute with the First Nurturing Dads Class. Over 2,100 men have graduated to date from this program

Agency name change from Sarasota Day Nursery to Children First

Merged with historical Helen R. Payne Center formerly “Newtown Day Nursery”

Celebrated the opening of Children First campus in North Port

Partnered with Sarasota County School District’s Teen Parent Program (Cyesis)

Began serving children and families at the Suncoast Foundation Venice campus

Main campus site dedicated as the Dr. Elaine Marieb Early Learning Center with a gift commitment of $1 million from Dr. Marieb

Children First celebrates 60 years of providing high-quality services to children and families living at-risk as CEO Philip Tavill celebrates his 25th anniversary

Children First operates in 15 sites throughout Sarasota County & serves hundreds of children and their families each year.