Staff profile: Jacqueline McCracken

Vice President of Strategic Impact Jacqueline McCracken joined Ready for School, Ready for Life(Ready Ready) in February 2022 and has recently celebrated her first anniversary. In her role, she oversees and manages Ready Ready’s priority areas of data and performance, integrateddata system and the network. The latter is comprised of navigation, prenatal to three strategies, continuous quality improvement and community alignment.

“I collaborate with community stakeholders and leaders to advance building the system of care for young children and families,” McCracken said. “Even before I began working at Ready Ready, I was interested in how this work creates short and long-term impacts for individuals and our community. My family has also personally benefited from the expansion of the evidence-based programs Ready Ready has supported as a backbone organization.”

McCracken said Ready Ready’s role as a backbone organization is underscored by its structure as a startup nonprofit. “Being part of the building phase is an area where I think I can contribute the most,” she said. “Everything is brand new, and nothing like this exists yet. It’s exciting to put processes, protocols, and measures in place, building momentum and energizing people about a vision.”

Jacqueline McCracken and her son walk down a street. We see them from behind.McCracken said the startup energy she enjoys at work reminds her of a giant puzzle and making all the pieces fit. That may be one of the reasons she’s turned to detective stories in her spare time.

“Adding non-work related reading back into my normal routine has been fun. I’ve been working my way through Michael Connolly’s Lincoln Lawyer series,” McCracken said. Additionally, she likes reading to her four-year-old son and being physically active.

“My number one priority is family. I also prioritize my health. I like to lift weights and walk outdoors,” she said. “I typically try to get a walk in every day. Just thirty minutes works wonders for my energy and mental clarity.“

Staff profile: Sanaa Sharrieff

“It felt like a support system at a time when I had no local support system,” said Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) Parent Liaison Sanaa Sharrieff about the Guilford Parent Leader Network – her first connection to the organization. “When I moved to High Point, I didn’t know anyone. Learning about volunteer efforts, parent support efforts, and agencies in the community helped me realize the concept of parent voice. And it also developed into a career pathway.”

As a Parent Liaison, Sharrieff creates and sustains bridges between parent leader voices in the GPLN and community support. She joined Ready Ready as a staff member in 2022 after several years in leadership roles in the GPLN and a seat on the national Parent Leader Network steering committee.

“Now I connect with the parent leaders in the GPLN from a different perspective, in a way that said ‘Well, hey, there’s more for you here. Let me bring you along into this space of empowerment.’ Parents already have power, but now I can help show them how they can use their power even more from an organizational perspective,” Sharrieff said.

Photo of Sanaa Sharrief and family membersMentoring parents into leadership is an aspect of her role at Ready Ready that really resonates with Sharrieff. She is a Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) facilitator and peer parent trainer. She has guided parent leaders through COFI Phase I (self, family & team building) and COFI Phase II (community outreach and action) phases. The COFI way develops leaders and helps parents build organizations that make a real difference in the community, according to the organization.

Sharrieff is also the parent of eight-year-old twins, a 19-year-old, and a 22-year-old. “My older children have left the nest and are creating lives of their own,” Sharrieff said. “My twins are these robust, rambunctious, highly energetic, very intelligent children who keep me on my toes.”

In between her parent leadership role at work, and parenting at home, Sharrieff has a variety of other interests and hobbies. “As Queen Sanaa, I’m a singer, a spoken word artist, and a rap artist with music on all streaming platforms. I’m also a fashion designer with a clothing line,” she said.

Sharrieff has also ventured into podcasting. “Because I was part of the national Parent Leadership Network, I became a co-host of season two of The New Neighborhood Podcast from the Center for the Study of Social Policy,” she said. Sharrieff enjoyed the experience so much that she started her own podcast.

“We discuss topics like the psychology of abuse, the Five Love Languages, or the eight different types of love,” Sharrieff said.

Staff profile: Coretta Walker

Coretta Walker joined Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) as Project Manager: Ages 3-5 in May 2022. In her role, she’s responsible for building the infrastructure and processes for the next stage of Ready Ready’s work to shift outcomes for Guilford County children and their families.

“It’s an exciting time to be at Ready Ready,” Walker said. “Enormous work has been done to establish the foundation for Guilford County families with children prenatal to age three. Now we are building on that progress to make sure children born beginning January 1, 2023, have the services in place to be prepared for kindergarten.”

Walker explains her work at Ready Ready as removing barriers to ensure every child in Guilford County is ready for kindergarten and on target to read proficiently in third grade.

“This is deeply personal for me. I’m a mother of two daughters who are three and eight,” Walker said. “I’m passionate about Guilford County and serving my community to ensure we all have access to the best life.”

Walker volunteers in the community through organizations like the Junior League of Greensboro, McLeansville Elementary’s PTO, and Mt. Zion Baptist Church. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta, a historically Black sorority. 

With two children active in the arts community and volunteer work on her calendar, Walker still makes time for other important interests.

Coretta Walker and daughter on a carousel“I love monograms and football with the same amount of passion and fervor,” Walker shared. “I love watching Carolina football – that’s University of National Champions, by the way. I’m also a Carolina Panthers fan, which has been a hard road for the past couple of years. I watch football at our house from Thursday to Monday with my husband and daughters. It’s an institution.”

Walker has been a dancer for 18 years and has performed at all levels: competition, college, and as a teacher. She brings that energy and enthusiasm to her work and personal life, along with an appreciation for staying hydrated. It might be why her tumbler collection is a longtime passion. 

“I have more than 50 Starbucks cups in all sizes and colors. I use one to two every day for water and iced coffee. If I’m feeling fancy, they match my outfit, and they also help create seasonal spirit,” she said. “I am the person who believes in all things bright – bright energy, bright color.”

Staff profile: Kelli Crawford

Kelli Crawford joined Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) as Continuous Quality Improvement Manager earlier this year. Previously, Kelli served as the Director of Impact at Junior Achievement of the Triad. In that role, she built relationships with school districts, educators, and volunteers across five counties to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.

Overseeing the Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) program allows Crawford to connect with Guilford County programs that focus on serving families with young children.

“As someone who’s a lifelong learner and focuses on ways to grow and improve, working with these programs to help them increase their efficiency, quality, and service is a natural fit,” Crawford said.

The CQI process uses the Model for Improvement, a powerful and flexible method promoting a structured experiential learning approach. The 13 organizations in CQI Cohort II began their work in September and will finish the process in May 2023.  Their team-based work will help them collect, analyze, and use data to improve service quality.

“We’re working with three to four team members in each organization,” Crawford said. “Each month, the programs participate in learning sessions with each other and CQI facilitators from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work and Population Health Improvement Partners. The CQI members receive additional coaching between sessions and have time to complete any assignments.”

When she’s not helping local organizations create new ways to improve, Crawford says she enjoys spending time in nature and expanding her photography skills. She and her husband are avid campers and enjoy exploring North Carolina, from the mountains to the beaches.

“My husband’s family introduced me to camping, and I fell in love with it, too,” Crawford said. “During the pandemic, we bought a small camper to continue exploring and find safe ways to continue our travels.”

While camping in North Carolina allows for quick getaways, a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming inspired Crawford’s photography. “I’ve used some of the photos I took there in my office to remind me of that trip,” she said. “It’s a great way to bring the outdoors indoors.”

Staff profile: Stephanie Skordas

Stephanie Skordas celebrated her second anniversary as Ready Ready’s director of marketing and communications last month. She joined our organization after more than ten years of working in higher education strategic communications in a neighboring county, and shortly after the pandemic transitioned everyone to online education, including her youngest daughter in middle school.

“I had an appreciation for the steps Guilford County Schools was taking to help make the transition after seeing how a private, liberal arts university had to pivot so quickly,” Skordas said. “That reignited my passion for early childhood education.”

A former marketing director at the Greensboro Children’s Museum, now Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum, Skordas brought some of the lessons she learned from her mother, a former preschool teacher turned mental health counselor, to her communications efforts. “She has a way of making a story come alive, and understanding what children need to succeed from the very beginning,” Skordas said, “and I saw how she made a difference in her students’ lives before they started kindergarten.”

Photo of the Skordas family in Coronado, CAWhile her work at Ready Ready runs the gamut from monthly newsletters, to website updates, social media, media relations, public will-building, and more, Skordas says she values the principles Ready Ready weaves through all its work. “The focus on being family-led, inclusive, equity-driven, responsive to evidence, transparent, and collaborative is critical to the system-building work we’re doing,” she said. “As a former journalist, I feel so strongly about how communities that are aware and informed can make amazing strides together.”

When she’s not creating written or multimedia content for Ready Ready, you can find this flamingo aficionado chaperoning for the Page High School Band, volunteering with the PTSA, or crashing on the sofa reading, watching movies, playing video games, crocheting, or scrapbooking. She and her husband have two daughters and two cats.

Staff profile: Connie Colter

Ready for School, Ready for Life Parent Liaison Connie Colter came to our organization through the Guilford Parent Leader Network (GPLN) and its Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI)training.

“I empower families to make a difference within Guilford County and also offer them support,” Colter said. “I build one-on-one relationships with GPLN families and encourage other families in Guilford County to join our group. It’s so important to have a support system as a parent.”

Photo of Connie ColterThey say if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.  Colter is currently earning her degrees in special education and criminal justice while parenting five children and working at Ready Ready.  Her long-term goal is to provide quality education to juvenile delinquents by starting a school for them. She intends to get to the root of the problem instead of watching them get passed along the system.

“Once they have the label ‘juvenile delinquent’, it sticks with them for the rest of their educational life,” Colter said. “These children don’t receive the standard quality of education and this causes a greater issue. What would happen if we took the time to understand the root of why they may have lashed out or committed a crime and help them work past it?”

Colter says her interest in education and social justice comes from her mother’s 30-year career working with children who have exceptional needs. “Growing up learning not to judge people, but looking beyond what society may say about them is so important,” Colter said. “I learned to give back and treat people how you’d want to be treated if you were in their shoes.”

When she’s not studying, writing and submitting papers, parenting, or creating a support network for Guilford County Parents, Colter likes to paint, cook, and plan events. She’s an especially big fan of celebrating people’s birthdays.

Staff Profile: Heather Adams

“I’ve always had a passion for working with children. From very early in my work with children, I understood that a strong foundation sets them up for success,” VP of Public Will-Building Heather Adams said. “After my daughter was born, I shifted my drive away from the classroom and into early childhood development.”

After nearly 15 years as Executive Director of the Rockingham County Partnership for Children, Adams joined Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) as Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. Her projects included areas such as family engagement with the Guilford Parent Leader Network, strategic planning for The Basics Guilford, and leading a community-wide design team for the Ages 3-5 stage of our work. She celebrated her second anniversary at Ready Ready just last month.

“Now my role is building momentum across Guilford County for the work Ready Ready is coordinating,” Adams said. “Our goal is population-level change, and it impacts the whole community. That means we must reach out to our incredibly diverse community and help them understand why we’re building a system of care for the very youngest children and their families.”

Photo of Heather AdamsReady Ready’s work focused on prenatal to age three is scaling up to full implementation. In addition, the next stage adds strategies focused on children ages 3-5 and then 5-8. “Our hope in stage two is that we’ll see a reduction in disparities, improved outcomes for children at kindergarten entry, and success in school by third grade. As we build public will and momentum, I think we’ll be a much more visible organization in the community.”

A recent empty-nester with her daughter in her second year of college, Adams enjoys making connections with the community. One key activity – running. A former marathon runner, Adams finds running to be both a work-life balance release and an effective fitness routine. “I have found a lot of community running the streets and trails of Greensboro and Guilford County. When you’re pounding the pavement with friends, there’s lots to discuss while you enjoy the scenery.”

Staff profile: Michelle Chapin

The Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) staff has grown exponentially during the pandemic. But while you’re meeting many new staff members in our newsletter, many of you may already know Project Manager: Ages Prenatal-3 Michelle Chapin.

“I started working with Ready Ready in 2017 as a contract staff member to support early literacy and our Continuous Quality Improvement work,” Chapin said. “Now I help advance our collaborative work with expansion program partners, families, and medical homes.”

Chapin said having more staff capacity has really catapulted Ready Ready into a position to tackle the extensive work that the organization has long envisioned, tested, and piloted – remaining true to our mission and vision. “Having more staff with a variety of expertise, diversity, and backgrounds has helped us better inform how we approach our work to the benefit of Guilford County families.”

Chapin particularly enjoys working with community partners to create population-level change in her role at Ready Ready. “We work with such a great wealth of experience and knowledge through our community partners,” she said. “Working alongside Guilford County families with their own lived experiences and perspectives is critical because we’re building a system of care with families that needs to work for families.”

Michelle Chapin stands with her daughter, who is seated on their horse, QOutside of her work day, Chapin enjoys running outdoors. She said the physical activity helps her with work-life balance, and enjoying the scenery is equally refreshing. “Around our neighborhood, I see deer, chipmunks, and have even seen a fox. It’s just relaxing to be out, and when you see something like that in the wild or your backyard, you just stop and are in awe of it.”

Something else she finds therapeutic? “My therapy is cleaning horse stalls. It’s both rewarding and a great workout,” she said. “My daughter’s passion is riding, and having an activity we can do together is really important to me. We are together at the barn where she rides, taking care of our horse, Q. It’s rewarding to have a project that you can see from start to finish, marking your progress and having the result of a neat and tidy space when you’re done.”

Staff profile: Mollie Blafer

Network Data and Systems Specialist Mollie Blafer planned to focus on early childhood education as a college student but found herself drawn to sociology and switching majors for her undergraduate degree. After earning her M.Ed. in College Student Personnel Administration, she settled into advising college students on their academic and career goals.

“I worked in the service learning office during grad school and loved working with the nonprofits I was connecting our students to,” Blafer said. “When I learned about Ready Ready, the opportunity felt like a great blend of all the skills I gained, my interest in early childhood education, and preparing people to put their best foot forward.”

Blafer joined Ready for School, Ready for Life as a Community Alignment Specialist in 2020 and recently saw a change as our organization grew and flourished. “I was liaising with our technology consultants to help our community and program partners integrate with our database. I found I was consulting with our programs about how the Integrated Data System can benefit them and doing more reporting and working to help build out our navigation services and strategy.”

A Class of 2022 graduate of Leadership High Point, Blafer particularly enjoyed the class project. “We made a sensory garden and built a story walk at the High Point Library to give back to the community and connect to early literacy. As someone who lives in Greensboro, the ability to learn more about High Point and meet more colleagues at other organizations was invaluable.”

Photo of Mollie and her cat MaddieBlafer adopted an orange tabby cat before the pandemic, which surprised her because she had a longstanding fear of cats after a neighbor’s kitty hissed aggressively at her when she was a child. “I wanted a pet but lived in a small studio apartment,” Blafer recalled. “So, a friend convinced me to visit a pet adoption fair. I picked up Maddie, and she let me hold her. Something about her energy clicked, and I called to adopt her the next day. And now I love all cats.”

Other hobbies include traveling, especially to visit family in New Jersey, practicing yoga, playing kickball in a rec league, and joining almost any community event. “I love being around my friends, and I really just love anything community-orient

Staff profile: Stormi Covington

Network Director Stormi Covington joined Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) in July 2019. She was familiar with Ready Ready’s mission from a previous role at Greensboro Housing Authority. “After I left the agency, I saw the position open at Ready Ready and I’ve been here ever since.”

Covington’s work at Ready Ready includes working with community partners, systems, and individuals to align services in Guilford County. She put it simply, “I’m a connector.”

Covington researches programs for connections with her godson P.J. in mind. He was born a week after she started her career at Ready Ready. “Researching programs for children ages 0-3 came naturally for me as I watched P.J. grow and develop. Now we are expanding our work for children ages 3-5 and he’s right in that sweet spot.”

The Covingtons and godson wear birthday hats
The Covingtons celebrate with their godson P.J. as an infant.

Much of Covington’s work at Ready Ready focuses on finding gaps in services and identifying solutions. She and her team have built an Agency Finder database with contact information and up to 40 data points for Ready Ready’s Integrated Data System. It will allow proven program staff members to seamlessly help families connect with the resources, information, and support they need. A version is also available to the general public by way of the Community Portal.

“My friends are surprised when I say I started with a spreadsheet,” Covington said. “My nonprofit colleagues understand that some areas of Guilford County have more resources than others, and not everyone has the same access. When it comes to navigating all these resources, it can take a lot of strategies to figure out what’s offered and what you need as a parent.”

One thing Covington recommends to all parents is The Basics Guilford. “When P.J. came along, I started talking with his parents, my friends, about The Basics. I taught them what I had learned and encouraged them to utilize them right from the start. It’s been amazing to see P.J. grow and develop.”