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Seneca honors retiring First Steps director

posted Dec 12, 2017, 7:39 AM by Ocdp Web

Posted on December 12, 2017 - By Greg Oliver - The Journal


Marie Dunnam, who is retiring at the end of this month after serving as executive director of First Steps of Oconee County, was honored last week at Seneca City Hall. Rex Brown | The Journal
Marie Dunnam, who is retiring at the end of this month after serving as executive director of First Steps of Oconee County, was honored last week at Seneca City Hall. Rex Brown | The Journal

SENECA —Marie Dunnam was honored Thursday at Seneca City Hall with a reception and an opportunity for friends and colleagues to express their gratitude for more than a quarter century of service to the community through First Steps of Oconee County.


Dunnam is retiring at the end of the year after serving as executive director of First Steps for 26 years.


South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness was initially signed into law by then-Gov. Jim Hodges in June 1999, and Oconee County First Steps began in September of that year. Dunnam was first elected as board chair and became executive director two years later.


Seneca Mayor Dan Alexander recalled a 2002 meeting with Dunnam about the need for public transportation. As a result of that meeting, the groundwork was laid for Seneca to seek and eventually receive money for public transportation, realized four years later through Clemson Area Transit. Seneca has since implemented the first all-electric bus fleet in the nation.


“(CAT) is about giving people hope, about giving people a chance to make a difference in life, and Marie has done that her whole life,” Alexander said. “For me, what she’s done to make public transportation take place in this county has not only changed my life, but the lives of others as well. I’ve always respected you, not only for myself, but my girls — both of whom are now in education — because of the impact she’s had on their lives and what they do.”


Sandra Pruitt, director of Family Friends, has served on the First Steps board since the beginning. Pruitt said Dunnam is a close friend with whom she has laughed and cried. Pruitt said she admires the job Dunnam has done at First Steps, including the Countdown to Kindergarten and Principles of Parenting Successfully programs.


“Nobody in the state knows more about First Steps — its strengths, weaknesses, potential and impact,” Pruitt said, adding that Dunnam’s work will “be felt for decades and powerfully impact Oconee County’s children.”


Board member Misty Lee unveiled a special gift to Dunnam, a  painting of a tree whose branches depicted the many programs offered through the program to help children enter first grade equipped and ready to learn. The actual fingerprints of some of the children who have benefited from her work are featured on the leaves of the tree.


Contained at the bottom of the painting is a quote from the late Fred Rogers — “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”


“We hope you hang this on the wall of your home and when you look at it, think about the impact you had on all the children of Oconee County,” Lee said.


Dunnam told the audience that she will always appreciate how the Oconee County legislative delegation ensured the First Steps program was established correctly.


“Our major accomplishment has been to fulfill the intent of the First Steps legislation,” Dunnam said. Dunnam also took time to recognize Monica Alles White, who will be the new Oconee County First Steps executive director.


“The search committee did a wonderful job and found the right person at the right time,” Dunnam said. “I think she’ll be able to carry on the work we’ve done the last 18 years and take it to another level.”


goliver@upstatetoday.com | (864) 973-6687

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