Policy Council liaison and CEO of Children First honored by Florida Head Start Association

Maria Somera and Philip Tavill recognized for efforts ‘in elevating excellence’ in Head Start in Florida

Children First, the exclusive provider of Head Start and Early Head Start services in Sarasota County, has announced that its Policy Council liaison Maria Somera — who also is a parent — and CEO Philip Tavill have been honored by the Florida Head Start Association (FHSA) for their efforts “in elevating excellence in Florida’s Head Start Community.”

“Representing nearly 43,000 children, 40,000 families, and 11,000 staff members across 134 programs, the FHSA works to create safe, healthy, nurturing learning environments for all children statewide,” with a focus on the early years in children’s lives, including their school situations and communities, a news release points out.

Honored with the FHSA Parent of the Year Award, Somera “was recognized for her demonstrated ability to serve as a role model for her children and for making a positive difference in our community,” the release adds.

Somera served as chair of Children First’s Policy Council for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, “making decisions that directly improved the lives of our children, families, and staff during the most challenging moments of the [COVID-19] pandemic,” the release explains. She serves as the Policy Council liaison, working alongside the agency’s board of directors in leading governance efforts, the release adds.

“When you become aware of what others are doing for you, it makes you more engaged, not only in your own life but within your community,” Somera said in the release. “Because of Children First, I know that I am not alone and my future, and those of my family, are brighter than ever before,” she added in the release.

Tavill received the FHSA Sargent Shriver Excellence in Community Service Award “for his innovative achievement in his community service work for Head Start and Early Head Start,” the release notes.

“Sargent Shriver was an American diplomat, politician, and activist,” the release explains. Not only was Shriver “the driving force behind the creation of the Peace Corps,” the release continues, but he also founded Job Corps, Head Start, VISTA, Upward Bound, and other programs, “as the architect of the 1960s War on Poverty.”

In 1994, President Bill Clinton presented Shriver the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “the United States’ highest civilian honor,” the release points out.

“Sargent Shriver once said, ‘It is well to be prepared for life as it is, but it is better to be prepared to make life better than it is,’ ” Tavill noted in the release. “I feel deeply grateful to be recognized with this award honoring the legacy of a true advocate for education and family well-being,” he added in the release.

“Since its founding in 1965,” Tavill continued, “Head Start has served more than 36 million children, and we remain committed as an agency to ensuring the highest quality of service possible to those in need in our community.”

Founded in 1961 and ranked in the top 1% out of more than 1,800 Head Starts nationwide, “Children First strengthens children and families by improving the quality of their lives through a comprehensive approach to development, education, health, and well-being,” the release says.

At 15 sites throughout Sarasota County, Children First offers full-day preschool, infant and toddler care, and nutrition and health care assistance to children from low-income families, from birth to the age of 5, the release explains. For more information, call 941-953-3877 or visit childrenfirst.net.