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Kingston Staff

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Simone Blair-Johnson

Teacher Aide

Hi, my Name is Simone Blair Johnson, and I am a Teacher Aid at CLC Early Head Start. My role is to make sure the children are in a safe clean environment. I have work with children of all ages. My goal is to become a professional teacher because enhancing success and seeing the smiles of children’s faces is what matters to me. I have work with children for most my life and it’s my pleasure to serve the children in whatever way I can. I have completed my Pre-School and Infant-Toddler CDA, and I am ready to be of service to all children.

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Michele Conklin

Program Consultant
Program-Wide

I have been a part of Head Start for 27 years starting as the Health Specialist and retiring two years ago as the Assistant Program Director.  After retirement I returned as a consultant to assist the leadership team while the Program continues to serve families throughout Ulster County. I believe the Head Start is a great agent of change in families lives.  Supporting not only children but their families as well as they grow. When I am not at Head Start I spend time with my family and traveling.

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Kristi Dugan

Family Worker
KDugan@UCCAC.com | (845) 338-8750 ext 605 or ext 260

HeadStart/Early HeadStart Family Worker Children’s Learning Center Kingston & Plattekill Center My name is Kristi Dugan, and I am one of the HeadStart/Early HeadStart Family Workers. I currently work between our Plattekill center and The Children’s Learning Center in Kingston. I began my career with HeadStart in 2021. As a Family Worker, I do recruitment and enrollment for our programs, conducting interviews and needs assessments for our families. The most important role I feel I have is providing guidance, advocacy and support to our children and their families. I have always had a passion for helping people, which led me to obtaining my associate degree in human services. I strive to build lasting relationships with the children and their families beyond their Head Start years. In my free time, I enjoy traveling, going to the beach and spending time with my family and friends. I can be reached at (845)338-8750 ext 605 or ext 260 or by email KDugan@UCCAC.com
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Tara L. Davis

CLC Assistant Teacher

Early Life
I was born in Kingston, NY in February of 1997 and I am the youngest of 12 children. I grew up in downtown Kingston until I was 25, living in a low-income and at-risk neighborhood for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I experienced my fair share of trauma and grief, losing both my parents by age 14, and many adversities along the way. Although life for me was difficult, my love for school, my hopes to have a better life, and my dream to help children who may have adverse childhood experiences life myself – it has influenced me to become an early childhood educator/advocate.

Education
I pursued my passion for childhood education by completing and receiving both my infant/toddler and preschool Childhood Development Associate credentials (CDA) and enrolling in Empire State University, where I plan on graduating with an AA degree in Educational Studies.

 Experience
In 2015 when I was 18 years old, I was able to officially work with my sister, assisting her in our at- home daycare, serving children ages ranging from 6 weeks – 12 years old. While working in our at-home day care, I applied to Head Start in 2019, and started off as a teacher aide for about three days. My work ethic, experience, and knowledge were quickly recognized, and I became the role of assistant teacher in a toddler classroom. Less than a year later, amid the Covid-19 shut down, I received my Infant/Toddler CDA and was promoted to Lead Teacher.

Personal Interests
Beyond the realm of early childhood education, I have a deep appreciation for music, literature, and travel. I find solace in singing, dancing and delving into captivating stories from different cultures, more specifically from elders who I hope to gain wisdom from. Exploring new destinations and immersing myself in different environments has always been a source of inspiration for me.

Future Aspirations
Looking ahead, I am eager to continue my education studies in early childhood and advocate for children with adverse childhood experiences. Working with children that come from low- income and at-risk communities can tug at your heartstrings, but even more so when you yourself have had similar struggles. It is my belief that children, especially those with disabilities and other adversities, deserve a chance to build a strong foundation in order to be successful in their educational journey and me as their educator will be able to give them the tools they need to reach developmental milestones, to advocate for services they may need, and to help them become school-ready.

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Angela D’Aiuto

Family and Community Engagement Director

Angela D’Aiuto Family Worker and Community Engagement Director is a resident of Ellenville NY. Angela has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from St. John’s University and studied Public Administration at Concordia University in Montreal. As someone who believes that collaboration is key, supporting our families across the four HeadStart sites is a very rewarding experience. As a community activist with around human rights, financial literacy and environmental justice, Angela is excited to be part of the UCCAC HeadStart family. While residing in Staten Island NYC, she received community Leadership awards and recognition for her community relief efforts during Super Storm Sandy and the Covid pandemic.

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Sandy Essington

Behavioral Health Consultant
Program-Wide

Sandy Essington LCSW-R is a graduate of Fordham University’s Social Work program and has over 34 years of clinical and administrative experience working with children and families in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandy currently works for Astor Services for the past 22 years where she has had many roles including clinician, Outpatient Mental Health Clinic Supervisor, Community Liaison, Community Expansion, Intern Coordinator, lead for the Zero Suicide Initiative and Mental Health Consultant for the Ulster County Head Start programs.

At Head Start Sandy is available 2 days per week (Mon’s & Thurs’) to all Ulster County Head Start sites to observe and support children in the classroom, assist classroom staff in providing supportive strategies to students in need, providing support to families by helping with behavior management techniques, assisting families in accessing services in the community, and working with identified students in the classroom to explore their social/emotional needs through play and develop individualized behavior support plans. Sandy Also works with the Head Start team to help to develop and maintain a trauma informed environment for children and staff.

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Annmarie Fitzgerald

Administrative Assistant
Program-Wide

I am the Early Head Start and Head Start Administrative Assistant, but also do a few other duties to assist Community Action, such as take minutes at UCCAC Board meetings and assist the HR Director with Head Start personnel duties.  My function in Head Start is assisting all of the Directors, Teachers and Family Workers within Head Start. Some of the things I assist with include:

  • receptionist at the Children’s Learning Center
  • general IT assistance & database administrator of GoEngage Head Start children, families & staff database, assistance with running data reports, formatting or creating forms, policies, procedures, etc.
  • assistance with public relations functions such as press releases, recruitment of children & families, staff, etc.
  • taking minutes & mailings for Policy Council, Health & Family Services Advisory, etc. and others as needed
  • assisting directors with their day-to-day needs as needed
I am a graduate of the College of Saint Rose (which is sadly closing, btw, and may be by the time you read this) with a BA in Public Communications. Saint Rose has always been considered a “Teacher college”, so it is ironic I am the support person for many educators! I have been with Head Start almost since I graduated in 1990, the first 8 years as an Administrative Assistant and then 1 year as the Family & Community Partnership Specialist doing networking and PR functions. I left to have my children (served as a Policy Council Community rep volunteer for three years within that time) and returned in 2008 as the Administrative Assistant. I love Head Start and the philosophy that parents are the primary educators of their child! The program is designed to work with the child AND the family, which I believe is so critical for success!! I married my high school sweetheart and have 2 adult sons, 1 cat and 1 dog. My hobbies are karaoke and watching my dog and cat play like Tom and Jerry!
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Giovi Giordano

Family Worker
ggiordano@uccac.com | (845) 338-8750 x207

Hello! My name is Giovi Giordano. I was born and raised in Kingston, NY. I am the Early Head Start Family Worker at the Children’s Learning Center in Kingston. I will also be managing the social media for our Head Start Programs. In addition, I am a lead teacher at The Little Gym where I support families in their child’s development through physical activity. I recently graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BA in psychology. When I graduated with my Bachelor’s, I came to UCCAC in hopes of gaining experience in the human services field before I go to graduate school to obtain my LMSW. Helping my community, especially children, is something I’m very passionate about. You can reach me at ggiordano@uccac.com or 845-338-8750 x207 with any questions regarding our Head Start Programs. I look forward to working with you and your family!

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Jennifer Hammond

Disabilities Director & OCFS Compliance Director
Program-Wide
jhammond@uccac.com | (845) 338-8750 ext. 232

My name is Jennifer Hammond and I am the OCFS Compliance Director and Disabilities Director for our program.  I ensure compliance with NYS Office of Children & Family Services day care regulations and Federal Head Start Program Performance Standards, which includes overseeing facilities. I also work with teachers and families for those children who are receiving therapeutic services at our program across Ulster County.  I work close with Early Intervention and Preschool therapists to ensure children and families have the services they need to be meet developmental milestones and are school ready! I began my Head Start career in 1999.  During my years at Head Start I have been a Toddler Teacher, Education Coordinator, and Center Director. I value the Head Start approach that supports parents as the child’s primary teacher and a comprehensive approach to school readiness: health and nutrition, family support and advocacy, as well as child development. I am excited to partner with your family this year!  You can reach me via email jhammond@uccac.com, or phone at 845-338-8750 ext. 232.
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Ricci Kilmer

Center Director

My name is Ricci Kilmer and I serve as the Center Director of the Children’s Learning Center in Kingston, NY. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Early childhood education has been my vocation for the past eleven years, and I have served many roles in that time including as a teacher, a family life educator, and now a center director.   

Families are a child’s first teachers and are essential partners in their educational journey. I believe that all children and families should be treated with dignity, equity and respect. High-quality early childhood education provides a foundation for the lifetime learning of the child; it engages them in supported play and provides opportunities for social-emotional learning. I am proud to be part of the early childhood community providing support to children and families alike.  

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Sarit Oberlander

Health Services Director

Sarit Oberlander just completed her first year as the HS/EHS Health Services Director. She loves meeting families, playing with children in the classroom when time allows, and making sure the children receive two healthy meals a day! Sarit has a master’s in public health from New York University and is a New York State Certified Dietitian. Prior to working for Head Start, she spent 4 years as a nutritionist for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program in Brooklyn, where she developed expertise in prenatal and early childhood nutrition and gained invaluable experience counseling women and families. Sarit has also worked at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she taught nutrition and cooking at farmers’ markets in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Most recently, Sarit spent 3 years working on small family farms in the Hudson Valley. She loved working outside and having fresh produce at her fingertips, but she couldn’t sustain the long hours of physical activity. Recently she discovered a love of unique and rare flowers and has big plans for her backyard garden this summer. Sarit also enjoys hiking, reading, eating, and spending time with friends.

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Donna O’Rourke

Head Cook
Program-Wide

My name is Donna O’Rourke. I am the Head Cook at CLC.  I have been an employee for about 10 years now.  My job is to help the other Cooks at the other Head Start sites follow our healthy menus and to develop new food ideas so the children remain happy and healthy.  I cook primarily for CLC but I also cook for the Saugerties site and deliver to them daily.

I am always open to new food suggestions and enjoy my position here.  I love to laugh and enjoy a good cup of coffee when I get the chance to have one.  The other cooks and I get along very well and I feel we have a very good bunch of people working here.

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Leia Vankleeck

Teacher Aide

I began my career at UCCAC in August of 2023. I am working to earn my Child Development Associate Credential and hope to be a Teacher Assistant before the end of this year. I have enjoyed being around children since I was a child myself. When given the opportunity to start babysitting my niece and nephew, I took it. Childcare is an extremely rewarding job. Every day I am learning something new! I am currently a Teacher Aide. As a Teacher Aide, I do not discipline. I assist the teacher with cleaning, preparing the tables for breakfast and lunch, help children navigate their day and anything else I can assist with during the day. If I am not working I am at home with my two dogs or relaxing with a good book!

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Beckey Walter

Education & Curriculum Director
Program-Wide
bwalter@uccac.com  | (845) 338-8750 ext. 212

My name is Beckey Walter and I am the Education & Curriculum Director for our Early Head Start and Head Start program. I began my Head Start career in 2005. During my years here, I have taken on many different roles including home visitor, toddler teacher and preschool teacher. I have stayed with the program because of the love and care each member of our Head Start community puts into each aspect of the program. Each piece of our program must rely on each other to be the most successful possible.  This success begins with our amazing families who open their lives to us and involves the teachers, family workers and management team working together to make the most personal and successful Head Start experience possible.  I, myself was a Head Start parent.  My child was a special needs child and Head Start helped a great deal with making sure the program was the right fit for him and advocating for things to benefit him and make his experience the best it could be.  They say it takes a village and Head Start was a wonderful, supportive addition to my village.

As the Education Director, I oversee the classrooms and the implementation of our Highscope curriculum. If you need any help or support especially around areas that involve the classroom and curriculum, please reach out to me and I would be happy to assist the best I can.  I can be reached at bwalter@uccac.com  or by phone at 845-338-8750 ext. 212.  We are so happy to be part of our community, welcome to our Head Start village!

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Pam Wenner

Program Director
Program-Wide

It has been an honor to serve as Ulster County Community Action’s Head Start/Early Head Start Program Director since 1994. Prior to this I served as an Adoption Caseworker for 6 years at Ulster County Department of Social Services, and as the YMCA Youth Director for 11 years. I have worked with children of all ages and their families throughout my career. 

As Head Start/Early Head Start Director, I oversee a team of approximately 76 dedicated Head Start and Early Head Start staff to ensure that we implement a comprehensive, quality Early Childhood Program in the Spirit of the Head Start Program Performance Standards. I work closely with and through our Head Start/Early Head Start Specialist team, consisting of an Assistant Program Director, Family & Community Engagement Director, Disabilities & OCFS Compliance Director, Education Director and a Health Director to make sure that we use Research Based curriculums and Best Practice to implement our services to each of the children and families served by the Program. I work closely with Ulster County Community Action’s leadership team to ensure sound fiscal management and human resource practices. 

I am the communication link with the Head Start/Early Head Start Policy Council and UCCAC Board of Director’s to ensure that Head Start / Early Head Start policies and required approvals support quality programing. This role provides a unique opportunity to work side by side with Head Start and Early Start parents and community representatives to engage in shared decision making. I am also the primary communication link with our Program Funder’s, to ensure sound program oversight. I have primary responsibility for Head Start/Early Head Start Grant writing and ensuring that our program is responsive to community needs.