First Step History

From our earliest days, First Step has been rooted in community-driven work, pioneering innovative ideas and a holistic approach to family support. We are proud of our legacy and will continue supporting families’ health and well-being for decades to come. 

In the early 1970s, a coalition of parents imagined a center to support their children with disabilities and provide needed therapy services and support to the whole family. From this dream, the Clallam Day Training Center began and was operated out of the First Baptist Church in Port Angeles. This daytime preschool for children with disabilities also provided access to in-center occupational and physical therapy services and comprehensive family support services. Wildly innovative at the time, this program served a critical need. It allowed local children to live at home and outside the institutions that had historically been offered as the only option.

From our inception, we have held a deep belief in protecting the rights and autonomy of all clients. An early copy of the Student Rights document states that all students should be treated with dignity and have the opportunity to actively participate in developing their education and therapy programming. As school-aged children with disabilities gained the right to public education, early intervention services became a more significant part of the programming offered. In 1984, the agency was renamed First Step Child Development Center.

In the early 1980s, partners from Family Planning, Clallam County Health and Human Services, Peninsula College, and others joined together, brainstorming ways to address teen pregnancy and support teen parents. This coalition received funding from the March of Dimes to begin the Perinatal Project, housed initially at the Peninsula Cooperative Preschool. The Perinatal Project worked partnered with the school districts and directly with young parents to support healthy pregnancies and parenting journeys.

In 1987, The Perinatal Project merged with First Step Child Development Center and brought with it services to support home visits, education, and supportive services to pregnant women and their families, and to provide parent education services and services to help teen parents. To this day, maternity support programs, parent education classes, support groups, and home visiting have remained at the core of our work.

“We opened our first drop-in family resource center where parents could shop in the clothing closet, which was located in a small metal shed in the parking lot, and meet with caring providers and make new friends – and new mothers would even walk straight over from the hospital to show off their newborns to staff.”

At the long-time home of First Step, on Georgiana in Port Angeles, programs like parenting classes and childbirth education filled the tiny classrooms with young families. We opened our first drop-in family resource center where parents could shop in the clothing closet, which was located in a small metal shed in the parking lot, and meet with caring providers and make new friends – and new mothers would even walk straight over from the hospital to show off their newborns to staff. Over time, programming grew to serve the emerging needs of families and it became clear that our work embodied what was being called a Family Support Center. This work was built on the principles of Family Support Practice by the Family Resource Coalition of America.

  • Staff and families work together in relationships based on equality and respect.
  • Programs affirm and strengthen families’ cultural, racial, and linguistic identities and enhance their ability to function in a multicultural society.
  • Practitioners work with families to mobilize formal and informal resources to support family development.
  • Staff enhance families’ capacity to support the growth and development of all family members — adults, youth, and children..
  • Programs are embedded in their communities and contribute to the community-building process.
  • Programs are flexible and continually responsive to emerging family and community issues.
  • Families are resources to their own members, to other families, to programs, and to communities.
  • Programs advocate with families for services and systems that are fair, responsive, and accountable to the families served.
  • Principles of family support are modeled in all program activities, including planning, governance, and administration.

In 1994, we officially changed our name to First Step Family Support Center to reflect our dedication to the principles of Family Support Practice and our work strengthening families. This also aligned us with other agencies popping up and doing similar work nationwide.

First Step, using a little red wagon, moved into a larger space with two buildings in 1995 on West 8th Street in Port Angeles. This space allowed our programming to grow, including preschool classes, drop-in family resource center programming, fathering programs, child passenger safety programs, parenting classes, and a more spacious clothing closet in our dirt-floor basement. In 1995, we purchased our first agency vehicle, which helped support families attending programming and getting to and from events around the community. This First Step van and others borrowed from agency partners could be seen packed with families heading to visit colleges like the University of Washington as they imagined their futures, at the Women in Trades Fair in Seattle, or local events like the Women’s Career Fair at Peninsula College.

In 2000, we moved into our current home at 325 E. 6th Street, now known as the Orville Campbell House and home to our Port Angeles Resource Center. When staff and board first visited the space, they were in awe and instantly felt at home. The house was being offered for sale by the estate of Barbara Garfinkle, who had remodeled and created her dream home after retiring from her career as a professor of women and family studies. Her family shared that she would have loved to know that her home was now able to support many more women and families within its walls. This move was made possible by a board member willing to donate earnest money for the transaction personally and First Federal Bank believing in our work and providing First Step a loan to purchase the original buildings.

Programming continued to grow in this beautiful home with its welcoming “Judy’s Kitchen” and stained-glass windows. In 2003, to serve a critical community need, we launched Supported Parenting, a unique program for Clallam County where families with one or more parents who experience a developmental delay can access long-term case management and support along their parenting journey.

In 2008, seeing a concerning trend in substance use in our community and substance-impacted newborns, we began offering the Parent Child Assistance Program (PCAP) in partnership with the University of Washington and the Department of Behavioral Health and Recovery. This program supports mothers and families impacted by substance use. First Step’s PCAP program currently supports over 106 women in two counties with seven full-time client advocates.

In 2009, having outgrown our existing space, we broke ground on the Dorothy Duncan Learning Center right next door to the Campbell House. This building opened in 2010 and became home to the Three Bears Educare preschool program, administrative offices, and classrooms.

In 2011, through the support of the Clallam County Behavioral Health One-Tenth of One Percent Tax Fund, we launched a Parents as Teachers program. This nationwide evidence-based home visiting model supports the optimal development of young children by facilitating personal visits centered around positive parenting practices and early childhood development research. The First Step Parents as Teachers program continues to be a leader in home visiting across the state and can serve over 140 families per month. It has been twice awarded Blue Ribbon Affiliate Status by Parents as Teachers National.

In 2012, through support from the OESD, we began offering Play and Learn groups. These facilitated groups allowed Parents and children to come together, hear stories, do crafts, enjoy healthy snacks, and participate in circle time and supportive discussions.  Over time, these groups became our Kaleidoscope Play and Learn program, which currently offers six weekly playgroups around Clallam and Jefferson Counties.

Our Family Resource Centers have flourished over the years and offer safe places for families to gain skills, connect, and access needed programs, resources, and support. Programs have waxed and waned as client needs and funding have shifted. We offered a Resource Center in Sequim for some time, and programs such as the Growing Healthy community garden partnership, cooking classes, sewing classes, parenting groups, Aunties Mentoring program, infant massage, MIHOPE Perinatal Mental Health Groups, Parenting classes, the tumble room and so much more. Our Port Angeles Resource Center drop-in program serves over 650 individual families per year. In 2023, this one site had nearly 5,000 visits by parents and children and continues to provide innovative programming to meet the needs of families. In 2020, when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, First Step was poised to continue our work supporting families. Instead of closing down, we ramped up our services, providing porch drop-offs, virtual visits, online playgroups, outdoor meetings, and pop-up vaccination events. We found ways to bring hundreds of thousands of COVID relief dollars directly to families experiencing critical needs.  

Although First Step has supported families with emergency diapers since the early 1980s, in 2022, we took that work deeper and launched the First Step Diaper Bank and Diaper Depot locations. This allowed us to provide more diapers to more families and made it easier for families to access diapers in places they already visit. Today, First Step’s Diaper Bank operates eight diaper depot locations and hosts diapers at all pop-up resource center events. In 2023, First Step provided 274,098 diapers to over 900 families in need.

In 2023, First Step opened the Forks Family Resource Center in response to the needs of families on the West End of Clallam County. This building operates as a smaller version of our Port Angeles Family Resource Center, providing a space for families to drop in and play, access a family support navigator who can support families in many languages, join a playgroup or support group, shop the clothing closet or relax and make a friend. In the first year of operations, this resource center saw nearly 2,000 visits from over 200 families, making the need for this satellite location clear.

First Step always seeks to listen deeply to the needs of families and bring forward programs and spaces to meet the ever-changing landscape. What remains the same is our belief in the power of families. Our work is informed and driven by the Strengthening Families Framework, which has been shown to increase family stability, enhance child development, and reduce child abuse and neglect. We know that children thrive when families have the support and resources they need.

We look forward to the next 50 years serving families on the North Olympic Peninsula and continuing to center the goals, needs, and cultures of families in our community. We are committed to providing innovative programming that supports and strengthens families.

Executive Director Emeritus

Nita Lynn joined First Step in 1987 when the Perinatal Project merged with First Step Child Development Center. For the next 34 years, she brought a fierce passion for strengths-based family support, dedication to operational excellence, and visionary leadership to First Step Family Support Center. A world traveler, Nita brought a global perspective and celebration of many cultures to this work, along with art and textiles that continue to enrich our spaces.

In her decades of service as the Executive Director, Nita advocated powerfully at local, state, and national levels to promote the health of mothers and babies, home visiting to support whole family units, and programs to grow family resiliency. Through her passion for our community and this work, First Step Family Support Center became a leader in family support work throughout Washington State and the nation. In 1997, Nita and First Step Family Support Center were honored with the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Award by then-Governor Gary Locke.

We congratulated Nita on her retirement in 2022 and wish her safe travels as she continues to explore the globe.

Thank you to all of the dedicated community members who have given their time in board service to First Step, energy, and expertise to support the mission of First Step Family Support Center.

Founding Board Members

Carole Boardman
Doris Stuart
Dr. Frank Skerbeck
John McGee

Lillian Trumbull
Mrs. Delmer Strean
Mrs. Wayne Hyland

Historical Board Members

Alice Van Meter

Anita Woodnutt

Anna Barrigan

Barbara Clampett

Bob Wheeler

Brenda Tassie

Brent Jones

Carol Griffith

Cecile Greenway

Cherie Houston

Chris Hamilton

Chris Wilbur

Chuck Paulson

Cindi Hutchinson

Cliff Tassie

Dan Shea

Darlene Jones

Dennis Duncan

Diane Johnson

Dorothy Duncan

Dorothy Skerbeck

Gail Reader

Gayle Hemphill

George Stuber

Graciela Harris

Helen Fox

Holly Haller

Jan Peterson

Jay Garrett

Jeri Dille

Jessica Eshom 

Jessica Payne

Jim Hickman

Joyce Larson

Kathy Bryant

Katie Osorio

Kelly Hollern

Ken Foster

Kris Mueller

Kristen Tucker

Kristi Leaf

Kristin Glenn

Leslie Campbell

Lucille Schmitt

Lyell Fox

Marcy Woodruff

Margo Hornberger

Marian Birch 

Marthe Fortman

Mary Irwin

Nancy Chambers

Nicole Freeman

Norm Schaaf

Orville Campbell

Pam Walker

Patricia Green

Paul Stutsman

Priscilla Schaefer

Randi Jones

Resa Yamamoto

Rita Young

Ruby Gibson

Sarah Baxter

Sarah Cronauer

Sheila Martin 

Sheila Richter

Sue Ellen Kraft

Sue McCabe

Susan Yanik

Sylvia Hancock

Sylvia Meyer

Teresa Stuber

Tracey Lassus 

Tricia Parker

Trisha Hoagland

Trudy Robbins

Vickie Becker

Wendy Foster

Jane Albee