Selena’s Story

Selena first came to SCO’s Scattered Site Supportive Housing Program, in August 2017. This program provides housing and transitional services for young adults who have been in foster care and are at-risk of homelessness. Selena, who had been in foster care since age 9, was dealing with a lot of family and personal issues. She was feeling frustrated and depressed. The tipping point came when her biological father passed away.

As a way to help cope with her loss, Selena decided to write a book about her experience. She hoped sharing her experience might inspire others…turning her personal tragedy into something positive. Ever resourceful, Selena wrote her entire book on her cell phone and uploaded it onto Amazon where it is currently sold as a Kindle format e-book.

Selena’s entrepreneurial spirit had been unleashed. Following her book, Selena developed her own podcast where she talks about life issues and how she has dealt with them in the hopes of motivating others. Since establishing her podcast last year, she has attracted over 20,000 followers worldwide.

She didn’t stop there. Selena then decided that she wanted to sell merchandise with inspirational messages. She started her own online t-shirt company – printing, packaging and shipping orders out of her apartment.

Selena has found her calling. She has found healing through sharing her story and inspiring others and she has experienced personal growth in the process.

SCO staff are encouraging her to utilize her abilities and resilience to pursue her education. In doing so, Selena will be able to use her knowledge to promote and expand her budding enterprises and find other employment opportunities to help her as she transitions to independent living.

Ryan’s Story

At 7 years old, Ryan was removed from his mother’s home and placed in SCO’s Foster Care program. Options for exploring his interests and creativity were limited. But that all changed for Ryan when his mentor at SCO encouraged and empowered him to pursue his dreams.

This mentorship broadened Ryan’s world and opened doors to opportunities. He discovered his abilities and strengths, nurtured a love for science, and developed his networking skills. Today, Ryan is proud to pay his experience forward by mentoring, encouraging, and guiding younger children at SCO.

Ryan is now a sophomore majoring in Biology at Jamestown Community College. SCO assisted him with transportation, college applications, and opportunities for financial aid to help him fulfill his potential and continue his education.

“Thank you for investing in my future,” said Ryan. “There is so much I would not have been able to do without the care and support that I received from SCO Family of Services.”




The FirstStepNYC Early Education Leadership Institute is designed to prepare and support current and future leaders to improve outcomes for all children and families by advancing quality and best practice in early education settings.


In the fall of 2013, the City of New York and SCO Family of Services opened FirstStepNYC: A state of the art Birth to 5 Early Childhood Center and Leadership Institute co-located at PS/IS41, a K-8 public school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The site opened with the ability to serve 58 families and their children, birth to age five, in five classrooms that are supported by twenty-five educators and family support staff. In the fall of 2014, FirstStepNYC will open five additional classrooms and the city-wide launch of the FirstStepNYC Early Education Leadership Institute.

Located in Brownsville, FirstStepNYC is supported by a public-private partnership linking city, state and federal funders with foundations, individual and corporate donors. The NYC Department of Education provided $10 million in capital support to design and conduct a renovation, transforming the space into a state of the art early childhood learning environment.


Headshot of Takiema Bunche Smith Early Education Leadership Institute DirectorTakiema Bunche Smith
Early Education Leadership Institute Director
Takiema Bunche Smith was named the inaugural Director of the Early Education Leadership Institute at SCO/FirstStepNYC in October 2014.

She previously served as Vice President, Education and Outreach at the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, where she oversaw teacher professional development, educational programming and outreach at five Brooklyn preschools.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Takiema was awarded Master’s degrees in Urban Education from the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and in Early Childhood & Elementary Education from Bank Street College of Education, and she is currently a student in NYU Wagner’s Executive MPA program for Public Service Leaders. Takiema is involved in advocacy efforts related to early childhood care, education, funding and policy, and has held positions as classroom teacher, teacher educator, content director for Sesame Street Children’s Educational Television Show, and director of curriculum and instruction.

In September 2014, Takiema was awarded a “Bammy Award” by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences, one of 25 educators and education professionals to receive the award across the U.S.

Laura Ensler
FirstStepNYC Founding Director

Laura is a consultant to public, private and not-for-profit organizations in the field of early care and education. She provides guidance to program administrators and managers instituting change management strategies, developing new and innovative systems, assessment and evaluation including government agencies such as NYC Administration for Children’s Services Early Care and Education division. Laura is currently overseeing the development, design and programming of FirstStepNYC and directing the Leadership Institute. Laura also consults with Powerful Interactions™, serving as Project Coordinator for a statewide project in Arizona, Creating Connections. In addition, she provides search and coaching services to the early childhood education field. Prior to her consultant work, she was the Director of Community Development and Outreach for Children and Family Services of the Visiting Nurse Service (VNSNY) of NY and the Early Head Start Director in Rockaway, Queens. Ms. Ensler has taught at the NYU School of Continuing Education and the Bank Street College of Education. She has served and is a Commissioner for the Mayor’s Commission on Women’s Issues, a member of the Advisory Board of Jumpstart Mid-Atlantic Region, advisory member of Ultimate Block Part/, and active in several national organizations including Reading Is Fundamental National Advisory Council and the National Faculty of the Ounce of Prevention Scale Assessment Training. She received her BA from Franklin and Marshall College and her Masters in Education from the Bank Street College of Education.

Advisory Council & Partnerships

Early childhood education leaders across New York City provide expertise and guidance to both the Center and the Institute.

Advisory Council:
ACS Office of Early Care & Education
Bank Street College or Education
CUNY Early Childhood Professional Development Institute
DOE Office of Early Education
Federations of Protestant Welfare Agencies
JPMorgan Chase Foundation
Office of the Mayor
SCO Family of Services
Sesame Workshop
Teach for America
United Way NYC

Public Partnerships:
NYC Administration for Children’s Services
NYC Department of Education
US Department of Health and Human Services – Administration for Children and Families

Private Partnerships:
Baby Buggy
Bloomberg Philanthropies
Con Edison
Johns Hopkins University School of Education
JPMorgan Chase Foundation
Major League Baseball
Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City
New York Mets
SCO Family of Services
Stella & Charles Guttman Foundation
The Edith Glick Shoolman Foundation
The Fund for Public Schools
Tiger Foundation
United Way of NY

Selena’s Story

Harnessing entrepreneurial spirit to pursue long-term goals with help from SCO

Selena has found her calling. She has found healing through sharing her story and inspiring others. Learn More

Ryan’s Story

Empowerment through mentorship

“There is so much I would not have been able to do without the care and support that I received from SCO Family of Services.” Learn More


of young adults in foster care (18+) are enrolled in school or working

We help


children get ready for kindergarten

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