Early childhood innovation grant to help local First Steps organizations assist hard-to-reach families from all economic backgrounds

October 15, 2021

Berkeley County First Steps, together with Charleston County First Steps and Dorchester County First Steps, has received a $198,000 grant from South Carolina First Steps to support the three agencies’ Tri-County Play Collaborative initiative over a period of two years.

The three agencies currently partner together to serve the Charleston tri-county area through a collaboration under the name of Tri-County First Steps, helping families of young children prepare them for school and a lifetime of health and success.

Tri-County Play Collaborative, a recent initiative of the group, brings together Tri-County First Steps with the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, local libraries, and cultural institutions to offer primary caregivers of young tri-county children from every socio-economic background free or low-cost access to the Lowcountry’s world-class museums, theatres, aquarium, historical sites, and nature centers. The initiative’s goal is to ensure that young children of the tri-county’s hardest-to-reach families have equal opportunities to benefit from arts, cultural, and nature-based learning activities.

Adrienne Troy-Frazier, executive director of Berkeley County First Steps, is very grateful for the grant. “It will allow us to engage young children and their caregivers in imaginative and exciting ways,” she says, noting her appreciation for South Carolina First Steps as a generous and steadfast partner in assisting Tri-County Play Collaborative. “We believe that art, when made accessible and relatable, has the power to heal and strengthen families in our community. This funding comes at a time when it’s most needed.”

Charleston County First Steps Executive Director Sherry Gilliam agrees. “Through this grant, we can effectively support young children’s early learning and development with increased emphasis on improving their social-emotional development and mental health,” she says.

Crystal Campbell, executive director of Dorchester County First Steps, also expects the grant to strongly impact young children across her county. “Dolly Parton has said that if you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain,” she says. “During this pandemic, Dorchester County First Steps has experienced a great deal of ‘rain’ as we worked to prepare children ages birth to five for school success. This grant is definitely a rainbow. It will enable us to join forces even more powerfully with Berkeley County First Steps and Charleston County First Steps to make sure all our families have the opportunity to experience the rich cultural activities and events in our region like never before.”

A website for the initiative is currently under development. The public is invited to engage with the Tri-County Play Collaborative on Facebook at facebook.com/tricountyplaycollaborative and Instagram at instagram.com/tricountyplaycollaborative.

South Carolina First Steps’ Early Childhood Innovation Grants are designed to increase the state’s investment in early childhood through public-private partnerships. More than $100,000 of the funding comes from private philanthropy and the state income tax checkoff program, which allows taxpayers to contribute to First Steps on their state income tax form.

“Located in every county of the state, First Steps nonprofits work in the heart of our communities. They understand the needs of local families, and they know what works when it comes to supporting young children,” says Georgia Mjartan, executive director of South Carolina First Steps. “These grants recognize, and support, the creative ideas that are making a real impact.”



Berkeley County First Steps is part of a statewide initiative to prepare young children for school and a lifetime of learning. Serving the hardest-to-reach children and families first, its vision is to see that every child in its county enters kindergarten safe, healthy, ready to succeed, and eager to learn. It seeks to fulfill this vision by providing families with improved child care and early education opportunities, striving for an early childhood system that is transparent and easily navigated by families, ensuring that family engagement and partnership is embedded in the system, expanding and improving healthcare, and strengthening families through a parenting skills program. For more information, visit www.berkeleyfirststeps.com.


Tri-County First Steps, a partnership between Berkeley County First Steps, Charleston County First Steps, and Dorchester County First Steps, helps families of young children from across the Charleston tri-county area prepare them for school and a lifetime of health and success. For more information about each partner, visit www.berkeleyfirststeps.com, www.charlestonfirststeps.org, and www.dorchesterfirststeps.org.


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. Last year, First Steps directly served 28,427 children across all 46 counties. 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. Learn more at www.scfirststeps.org.