In 1961, the Junior League of Sarasota, formerly the Junior Welfare League of Sarasota, founded the Sarasota Day Nursery with a mission to prepare children from low-income families for Kindergarten. Their work changed lives and built a strong foundation, and in 1994 the agency became Sarasota County’s exclusive provider of Head Start services. With Early Head Start services added in 1998 and 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.
In 2021, the agency is celebrating both its 60th anniversary and CEO Philip Tavill’s 25 years of commitment to the Children First mission.
Under his leadership, Children First has grown to serve approximately 900 children and their families at 15 locations annually throughout Sarasota County with campuses in Venice, North Port, and Sarasota. The agency is a four-time designated Head Start Program of Excellence and ranks in the top 1% of more than 1,800 programs nationwide. Through its award-winning Families First Institute, comprehensive curricula is offered at no cost to all community members.
As a Junior League Sustainer, Board Chair Katherine Martucci’s leadership and governance expertise provide critical support. She helps oversee key program expansions reducing the waitlist and increasing comprehensive services for pregnant women, children ages birth to five, and families living at-risk.
Children First envisions a vibrant community that cherishes education, provides opportunities for children and families to grow and thrive, and encourages and empowers families in supporting their children. The agency’s founding principles are woven throughout its history, continuing the original mission of strengthening child and family together and creating a legacy for high-quality education, self-sufficiency, and lifelong success for everyone, regardless of circumstance at birth or in life.