Our Story

In 1995, van drivers picking up children for a church vacation bible school observed younger siblings being left at home in questionable or poorly supervised situations.

One of the van drivers was a college student who responded by designing a program to meet the needs of the children she had seen. Her work led to the founding of Small Steps Nurturing Center in 1995 and the construction of a school in Houston’s First Ward in 1999.

The success of the program has led to a demand for services that has consistently outpaced Small Steps’ capacity. In 2006, Small Steps opened a second campus in Houston’s Fifth Ward, enabling us to serve 118 students. In 2012, we expanded our Fifth Ward campus to add four new classrooms, as well as observation and training capabilities that allow collaborative partners and education students to observe and learn from our program. This year, Small Steps is serving 174 children in a 10-month program at two campuses.

Small Steps has graduated 415 children to kindergarten or first grade and has formed partnerships with area magnet programs, elementary schools, and private schools to continue to encourage and challenge our students.

Our Mission

To provide an exemplary early childhood program to instill and foster the social, emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual growth of economically at-risk children and their families.

Our Values

  • Christian Faith
  • Relationship-Driven Program
  • Focus on the Whole Person
  • High Expectations
  • Teamwork

Our Goals

  • Students will experience an intellectually stimulating environment, which allows each child to reach his or her academic potential and be prepared for elementary school.
  • Students will experience a safe, nurturing, healthy atmosphere.
  • Students will express needs and engage in positive interactions with peers and adults.
  • Students will feel loved and know that God created something special about each person.
  • Families will be nurtured and engaged as the primary teachers of their children.

Who We Serve


The estimated average household income for newly-enrolled Small Steps families.

To Qualify

For a child to qualify for Small Steps’ program, the family must meet the federal guidelines for the free meals portion of the National School Lunch Program (below 130 percent of the national poverty line) at the time of application, and parents must complete a minimum of ten tuition hours each school year. Families must also live in the surrounding zip codes at the time of application.

Cost of Attendance

There is no financial cost to families. Instead, parents commit to complete a minimum of ten tuition hours each school year. Parents can fulfill this requirement by attending parent education events, assisting on field trips or in the classroom, and participating in parent-child activities.

Demographic Served

Small Steps currently serves 174 students and their 143 families. Seventy-one percent of the children attending Small Steps are Hispanic, 25 percent are African American, 3 percent are multiethnic, and 1 percent is Caucasian. The majority of children and families we serve live within the following zip codes: 77007, 77009, 77020, 77022, and 77026. Most of our students live in the First, Second, and Fifth Wards of inner-city Houston.


Small Steps Nurturing Center has both empirical and anecdotal confirmation that our program is making a profound difference in the lives of the children and families we serve.


Small Steps is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has been awarded Charity Navigator’s four-star (highest) rating for 13 years in a row, earning their “exceptional” designation. Based upon Charity Navigator ratings, Small Steps was also number four on the Houston Chronicle’s list of Houston’s healthiest and most efficient charities, published on March 29, 2015.

Collaborative Partnerships

Small Steps has numerous ongoing collaborative partnerships with other nonprofits to accomplish our shared goals.

A.D. Players
Baylor University
Be A Champion, Inc.
The Center for Hearing and Speech
Christ the King Presbyterian Church
ESCAPE Family Resource Center
Hope Stone, Inc.
Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
Houston Food Bank
Impact Houston Church of Christ
M.D. Anderson Family YMCA
Partners in Educational Advocacy
Prevent Blindness Texas
Rice University Kinder Institute
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension
University of Houston College of Education Office of Research
University of St. Thomas

Board of Directors

Executive Officers

  • Chris Transier - President

    Fortis Minerals

  • Jessica Brazelton - Vice President

    Community Volunteer

  • James Gilligan - Secretary

    Investment Professional, Retired

  • Mari Salazar - Treasurer

    Bank of Texas

Board Members

  • Ed Bialas

    First Reserve Corporation

  • Robert O. Bond

    Oil and Gas Executive, Retired

  • Julie Boone, M.Ed.

    Early Childhood Educator/Administrator

  • Chris Bradshaw

    Era Group Inc.

  • Mark Burroughs

    EnCap Investments, L.P.

  • Jane Cabes

    Community Volunteer

  • Ryan Devlin

    EnCap Investments, L.P.

  • Ron Dierker

    J.P. Morgan

  • Michael Fertitta

    Hilcorp Energy Company

  • Jennifer Hazelton

    Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

  • Dash Lane

    KKR & Co. L.P.

  • Susan Light

    Community Volunteer

  • Jon Marinelli

    BMO Capital Markets

  • David McCarver

    Texas Capital Bank

  • Townes Pressler

    Lime Rock Partners

  • Tim Samson

    Thompson & Knight LLP

  • Bobby Stillwell

    Amplify Energy Corp.

  • John Stilwell

    Lockton Marine & Energy

  • Leticia Trauber

    Community Volunteer

  • Kate Walters

    Silver Eagle Distributors

Advisory Board

  • Thurmon Andress

    BreitBurn Energy Company

  • Fred Brazelton

    Platform Partners, LLC

  • Evan Harrel


  • Charlie Middlebrook

    Retired Minister

  • Marty Phillips

    EnCap Investments, L.P.

  • John Rathmell, Jr.

    Lockton Marine & Energy

  • Wynne Snoots

    EnCap Investments, L.P.




Volunteer Services

Support Staff

  • Eulalia R. Gray, M.A., CCC-SLP

    Speech Pathologist

Social and Emotional Program

  • Lauren Friede, M.Ed, LPC

    Social and Emotional Program Specialist—Jensen Campus

  • Lauren Repa, MA, LCSW

    Social and Emotional Program Specialist—Jensen Campus

  • Dalila Aldrich, MA, LPC-I

    Social and Emotional Program Specialist—DePelchin Campus

  • Michele Russell

    Social and Emotional Program Specialist


Teaching Staff—DePelchin

  • Sandra Batla

    Pre-K / Kindergarten Teacher

  • Ebony Kimble

    Pre-K / Kindergarten Teacher

  • Teresa Torres

    Pre-K / Kindergarten Teacher

  • Karen Hudson Villarreal

    Pre-K / Kindergarten Teacher

  • Anna Castillo

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Ja'Mese Coty

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Masami Mizukami

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Maria Peña

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Gloria Marron

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Frank Vasquez

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Justin Cook

    Drama/Music Teacher, All Ages

  • Angela Nino

    Chapel Teacher, All Ages

Teaching Staff—Jensen

  • Mary Ellen Ellis

    Kindergarten Teacher

  • Daniela Gonzalez

    Kindergarten Teacher

  • Aleece Nelson

    Kindergarten Teacher

  • Valerie Sanchez

    Kindergarten Teacher

  • Nadia Ellis

    Pre-K / 4 Year Old Teacher

  • Angel Hernandez

    Pre-K / 4 Year Old Teacher

  • Daisy Ramirez

    Pre-K / 4 Year Old Teacher

  • Michael Thomas

    Pre-K / 4 Year Old Teacher

  • Olga Barrera

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Mary Hannah Donaldson

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Leticia Flowers

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Thomasita Lira

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Michelle Marquart

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Virginia Melo

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Patricia Vasquez

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Irazema Villarreal

    2 & 3 Year Old Teacher

  • Monica Brown

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Donitta Williams

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Mario Peña

    Floater/Garden Teacher, All Ages

  • Justin Cook

    Drama/Music Teacher, All Ages

  • Angela Nino

    Chapel Teacher, All Ages

Kitchen / Site Maintenance Staff

  • Ivette Rincon

    Kitchen Supervisor

  • Raquel Aguirre

    Kitchen Assistant

  • Angele Callahan

    Kitchen Assistant

  • Christina Castro

    Kitchen Assistant

  • Maria Martinez

    Kitchen Assistant

  • Erika Martinez

    Kitchen Assistant

  • Paul Saldana


  • Miguel Barrera

    Van / Maintenance