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 approximately 180 children in a 10-month program at two campuses.

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 annual family income for last year’s 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 level) at the time of application, and parents must complete a minimum of 10 tuition hours (15 if more than one student) 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 10 tuition hours (15 if more than one student) 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 approximately 180 students and their 140 families. Last school year, 64 percent of the children attending Small Steps are Hispanic, 31 percent are African American, and 5 percent identify as multiracial. The majority of children and families we serve live within the following zip codes: 77009, 77019, 77020, and 77026. Most of our students live in the Fifth Ward and surrounding areas 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 15 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.

Baylor University
The Center for Hearing and Speech
Christ the King Presbyterian Church
Community Health Choice
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
University of Houston-Downtown
University of St. Thomas

Board of Directors

Executive Officers

  • Michael Fertitta - President

    Hilcorp Energy Company

  • Jessica Brazelton - Vice President

    Community Volunteer

  • James Gilligan - Secretary

    Investment Professional, Retired

  • Ed Bialas - Treasurer

    First Reserve Corporation

Board Members

  • Robert O. Bond

    Midcoast Energy Partners

  • Julie Boone, M.Ed.

    Early Childhood Educator

  • Chris Bradshaw

    Era Group Inc.

  • Jane Cabes

    Community Volunteer

  • Karen David-Green

    Weatherford International

  • Brooks Despot

    EnCap Investments, L.P.

  • Ryan Devlin

    EnCap Investments, L.P.

  • Ron Dierker

    J.P. Morgan

  • Jennifer Hazelton

    Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

  • Greg Highberger

    Lime Rock Partners



  • Dash Lane

    KKR & Co. L.P.

  • Susan Light

    Community Volunteer

  • Jon Marinelli

    BMO Capital Markets

  • David McCarver

    First Tennessee Bank

  • W. David de Roode

    Lockton Global Energy & Marine

  • Tim Samson

    Thompson & Knight LLP

  • Emily Sheeren


  • Bobby Stillwell, Jr.

    Oil and Gas Executive

  • Carolyn Tanner

    Community Volunteer

  • Chris Transier

    Fortis Minerals

  • Leticia Trauber

    Community Volunteer

Advisory Board

  • Thurmon Andress

    Andress Oil & Gas

  • 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.




Program Leadership

Social and Emotional Program


Kitchen / Facilities Staff

  • Ivette Rincon

    Kitchen Supervisor

  • Raquel Aguirre

    Kitchen Staff

  • Christina Castro

    Kitchen Staff

  • Erika Martinez

    Kitchen Staff

  • Maria Martinez

    Kitchen Staff

  • Paul Saldana

    Facilities Manager - Jensen

  • Miguel Barrera

    Facilities - DePelchin

Teaching Staff—DePelchin

  • Ja'Mese Coty

    2 & 3 Year Old Lead Teacher

  • Masami Mizukami

    2 & 3 Year Old Lead Teacher

  • Anna Castillo

    2 & 3 Year Old Assistant Teacher

  • Maria Peña

    2 & 3 Year Old Assistant Teacher

  • Ebony Kimble

    Pre-K Lead Teacher

  • Julieta Espinoza

    Pre-K Assistant Teacher

  • Nadia Ellis

    Kindergarten Lead Teacher

  • Vee Aguilar

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Gloria Marron

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Frank Vasquez

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Donitta Williams

    Chapel & Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Justin Cook

    Fine Arts & Flexible Teacher, All Ages

Teaching Staff—Jensen

  • Emily Donovan

    2 & 3 Year Old Lead Teacher

  • Tomy Lira

    2 & 3 Year Old Lead Teacher

  • Claire Moody

    2 & 3 Year Old Lead Teacher

  • Mike Thomas

    2 & 3 Year Old Lead Teacher

  • Olga Barrera

    2 & 3 Year Old Assistant Teacher

  • Leticia Flowers

    2 & 3 Year Old Assistant Teacher

  • Ayla Sparks

    2 & 3 Year Old Assistant Teacher

  • Sindi Torres

    2 & 3 Year Old Assistant Teacher

  • Marylen Child

    Pre-K Lead Teacher

  • Angel Hernandez

    Pre-K Lead Teacher

  • Daisy Ramirez

    Pre-K Assistant Teacher

  • Becky Romero

    Pre-K Assistant Teacher

  • Daniela Gonzalez Perez

    Kindergarten Lead Teacher

  • Mary Ellen Ellis

    Kindergarten Lead Teacher

  • Valerie Sanchez

    Kindergarten Assistant Teacher

  • Michelle Marquart

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Vee Aguilar

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Patricia Vasquez

    Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Donitta Williams

    Chapel & Flexible Teacher, All Ages

  • Justin Cook

    Fine Arts & Flexible Teacher, All Ages