Episcopal Children's Services Achieve Awards 2019

Parent of the Year: Alexus Geddes, Northeast Florida

Alexus, and her husband, Milton, have a marvelous daughter, McKenzie, who has been with Episcopal Children’s Services for over two years. Despite numerous health problems, McKenzie is thriving. Alexus demonstrates a positive can-do attitude by using her knowledge to help her child stay on track. Alexus never gives up, no matter what. 

She models what it means to be a good helper, mother, wife, and their child’s advocate. Despite the demands of working and motherhood, Alexus makes time to give back, volunteering with the Westside Early Head Start Center for more than 120 hours this past school year.
Alexus is a testament to the power of faithfulness and hard work.

Pictured to the left: Alexus Geddes, Milton Geddes, ECS CEO Connie Stophel



Parent of the Year: Stephen Cleveland, Lake County Florida

Stephen is a single father who takes much joy in his daughter Chloe. Stephen exemplifies leadership, initiative, and diligence.  Stephen always lends a helping hand at Episcopal Children’s Services Clermont Head Start/ Early Head Start Center, seeking ways to support every person at the center. He is a diligent self-starter. If there is a job that needs to be done, Stephen delights in taking it upon himself to complete it. He is genuinely willing to do whatever it takes – from pulling weeds and removing hanging tree limbs to cleaning toys.

He is a fabulous role model for students and our community because he embodies respect and courtesy through charity. Stephen shows ECS children the rewards that result from completing difficult or challenging tasks.

Pictured to the right: Stephen Cleveland and Cloe


Parent of the Year:  Sharlene Singleton, Central Florida

Sharlene is an incredible parent and volunteer, who demonstrates courage and tenacity in support of her son and daughter. She was a victim of domestic violence and successfully left that relationship. She is committed to the education of her children, so when her car broke down, she walked two hours to get her children to school.

She is a devoted volunteer, dedicating more than 400 hours over the past three school years. In addition to helping in the classrooms and playground, she represents other parents through her service on the Policy Council. Her diligence in program oversight resulted in her election as Head Start Policy Council President.

Episcopal Children’s Services were delighted that she was able to travel to Washington, D.C. to spend time sharing the importance of Head Start with our elected representatives, despite never having flown on an airplane. She boldly shared her story, and those of other parents, and told ECS she now knows she can do anything if she puts her mind to it.

Pictured above: ECS Board Chair- Derrick Smith, ECS Board Member- Dr. Heidi Maier, Staff Member of the Year-Sharlene Singleton, ECS CEO- Connie Stophel, ECS Board Member -Father Wiley Ammons


Staff Member of the Year: Jamillah Abdullah, Northeast Florida 

Jamillah Abdullah has been with Episcopal Children’s Services for twenty-eight years. Jamillah currently serves as Family Advocate for the Westside Jacksonville Early Head Start Teacher. While her job title may not be teacher, her heart is filled with the love of teaching families how to encourage and educate their young children.

One of her best qualities is tenacity as she never gives up on families. She is loving, yet firm – she welcomes each family as they arrive, but never takes an excuse from anyone. She knows that, with persistence, everyone can succeed. 

She wants every parent to learn to advocate and lead for their children and themselves. Jamillah equips each family with lessons and tools so that when they graduate from our program, they are equipped to handle any obstacles that come their way.

Pictured to the right: ECS Director of Family Services-Jenni Matusko, ECS Staff member of the Year- Jamillah Abdullah, ECS CEO- Connie Stophel


Staff Member of the Year: Cynthia Voss, Lake County Florida

Cynthia is an Early Learning Specialist and coaches Episcopal Children’s Services teachers on the quality interactions between teachers and students that are crucial for children’s academic achievement.

Cynthia is known for going above and beyond for her classrooms. Her well-deserved reputation stems from her ability to individualize support for each teacher using such bringing new materials, specialized activities, and developing strategies for children with challenging behaviors.
Cynthia is dedicated to her role as coach and increasing teacher practices to improve outcomes. She is intentional about creating lessons that target the skills the children need. She expresses a love for her job, and it shows in her attitude and work ethic.

Pictured above: ECS Board Chair- Derrick Smith, ECS Board Member- Dr. Heidi Maier, Staff Member of the Year-Cynthia Voss, ECS CEO- Connie Stophel, ECS Board Member -Father Wiley Ammons


Staff Member of the Year Joseph (Joe) Casale, Central Florida 

Joe has served as a maintenance technician for Episcopal Children’s Services for numerous years.

One of the great things about Joe is his ability to be a role model for the children we serve. Joe is always courteous and takes time to answer students’ questions when they inquire about something he is working on in a center. He understands that his trade requires many skills that children may not have seen before and is diligent in explaining what he is doing. He is responsive and caring of children’s natural curiosity.

Joe is keenly aware of the importance of the classroom environment and always takes extra steps to ensure areas are safe and inviting. He is warm and welcoming to parents and volunteers.

Pictured to the right:  Bryan Ward-ECS Facilities and Transportation Director, Staff Member of the Year- Joseph Casale


Teacher of the Year: Mecca Stewart,  Northeast Florida

Mecca creates a physical and emotional environment for her young students that is warm, nurturing, and engaging. She begins the school day using her greeting-apron to welcome each child as they enter the classroom. This opening provides an individual connection between Mecca and each child that continues throughout the day.

Her classroom has been intentionally designed to be explored and enjoyed by children – and is filled with developmentally appropriate learning opportunities. One of the highlights in her class is a large tree filled with the children’s family photos.

Mecca helps her children feel safe by creating a favorable climate, along with frequent conversations about things that are important. Her love of learning is contagious, as she is just as excited as her students when they master a lesson or skills.

Pictured above: ECS Board Chair- Derrick Smith, ECS Board Member- Dr. Heidi Maier, Teacher of the Year-Mecca Stewart, ECS CEO- Connie Stophel, ECS Board Member -Father Wiley Ammons


Teacher of the Year: Julia Meehan, Lake County 

Julia has a fantastic passion for teaching, along with an unfailing ability to meet every child where they are. This is demonstrated not only by the academic and developmental achievements of her students but also from the trust and confidence of her students’ parents and caregivers.
When children begin Head Start, many parents are understandably filled with fears and reservations. But Julia was able to replace these concerns with joy and gratitude quickly.

And these parents are loyal! They tell other parents, who then request Julia’s classroom. ECS has had numerous families refuse to transfer to one of our centers that is closer to home simply because they are so happy about how well their child is thriving. Children and parents alike love Julia.

Pictured to the right: Teacher of the Year-Julia Meehan


Teacher of the Year: Sandra Dawsey, Central Florida

Sandra exemplifies dedication and a commitment to help every child learn.

Behavior challenges for even one student can be frustrating for a teacher, and Sandra’s classroom had several children experiencing challenging behaviors. But Sandra is determined to meet the needs of every one of the children in her care.

Working hand-in-hand with her co-teacher, she developed specific strategies to support each of her students individually. She demonstrated her love and commitment to each child daily. And the children responded, and they are all now happy to come to school every day.

Pictured above: ECS Board Chair- Derrick Smith, ECS Board Member- Dr. Heidi Maier, Teacher of the Year-Sandra Dawsey, ECS CEO- Connie Stophel, ECS Board Member -Father Wiley Ammons


Volunteer of the Year: Sinclair Hugh, Northeast Florida 

Sinclair has been a devoted and active volunteer for Episcopal Children’s Services for over eight years. Known as “The Professor” at our Orange Park Head Start Center, Sinclair has a generous heart coupled with a passion for teaching.

Sinclair spends three days a week teaching English to Haitian and Hispanic parents at our center, many of whom were forced to flee their native countries for the safety of their family. Speaking and reading English is a necessity for adults in our community, and because of Sinclair, these families can thrive and assimilate into their new homes.

Sinclair has helped three of his students in Orange Park gain their U.S. citizenship and had the honor of attending their nationalization ceremonies.

Pictured to the right: ECS Board Chair- Derrick Smith, ECS Board Member- Dr. Heidi Maier, Volunteer of the Year-Sinclair Hugh, ECS CEO- Connie Stophel, ECS Board Member -Father Wiley Ammons

Volunteer of the Year: Jackie Atkinson, Lake County Florida

Jackie has taken on the task of representing Lake County Schools for the past two years on Episcopal Children’s Services Policy Council. In addition to her work as an active leader to help shape ECS’s program to meet the needs of our community best, she has created many relationships for Episcopal Children’s Services within the Lake County School System.

For young children, the move from preschool to kindergarten can be daunting. But with Jackie’s assistance, our teachers and parents meet with each child’s new teacher to create a smooth transition.

Jackie consistently goes above and beyond so that teachers, parents, and children have everything they need to succeed as they move to their new school

Pictured above: ECS Board Chair- Derrick Smith, ECS Board Member- Dr. Heidi Maier, Volunteer of the Year-Jackie Atkinson, ECS CEO- Connie Stophel, ECS Board Member -Father Wiley Ammons

Volunteer of the Year: Julie Holt,  Central Florida 

A representative of Red Robin here in Ocala, she and her staff came to the rescue for Episcopal Children’s Services 2019 Wild Reading Safari.
The Wild Reading Safari is a fantastic event that inspires a love of reading for our Head Start students and their families. In addition to hearing stories from celebrity readers and receiving new books for home reading, our families also are provided with a fabulous day of fun and food.

ECS’s RSVP’s greatly exceeded our initial estimates, and that’s when Julie and her team came to our aid. Beginning very early on a Saturday morning, they set up a table of exclusive giveaways for each family and later served burgers, chips, and drinks for over 400 guests with a smile. 

Julie gave joyfully donated not just $3,000 worth of food, but numerous hours of volunteer time to ensure our families had a rewarding experience.
Julie tells ECS that she understands and supports our mission because she was a Head Start parent herself, so knows firsthand, just how vital this program is for our community.

Pictured to the right: Volunteer of the Year-Julie Holt, ECS Director of Community & Corporate Outreach-Kelly Rogers