Who We Are
Senior Management Team
Georgia is the Executive Director of South Carolina First Steps. Prior to leading South Carolina First Steps, Georgia served for 12 years as the Executive Director of Our House, a nationally-recognized social services agency for homeless and near-homeless families and individuals in Arkansas.
Georgia is a graduate of the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program. Georgia was one of 12 Americans awarded the George Mitchell Scholarship for graduate study on the island of Ireland. As a Mitchell Scholar, she completed a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs and Political Communications at the University of Ulster (United Kingdom). Georgia holds undergraduate degrees from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, where as an adjunct faculty member she taught nonprofit management at the undergraduate and graduate level for five years.
Georgia is an Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow, a member of the Riley Diversity Fellows program, and a commissioner for the Columbia Housing Authority, a position appointed by the Columbia City Council. Previously, she was appointed by the Governor of Arkansas to serve as a member of the Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee. Georgia has served on numerous nonprofit boards including the founding boards of City Year Little Rock and Harmony Health Clinic, a free clinic for the uninsured.
Georgia is married to Dominik Mjartan, who is the President and CEO of Optus Bank. They are foster, adoptive and birth parents, and together they have three children ages 3, 4 and 5.
Mark is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Finance Officer for South Carolina First Steps. He has been with the organization since 2015. In his role as COO/CFO, Mark oversees the financial health and operations of the organization. Mark’s education includes an MBA with a concentration in Finance from the University of SC. Prior to joining First Steps, Mark worked for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control as a public health liaison, and was District Administrator for the Pee Dee Public Health District for 14 years. He is a graduate of the Management Academy for Public Health, and the Southeast Public Health Leadership Institute centered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC. He is the former CEO of Palmetto Hospitality Partners, Inc., a hospitality organization that he founded and ran for five years. Mark has served as an adjunct professor at the Arnold School for Public Health since 2013, and teaches Public Health Finance in their Graduate Program at the University of South Carolina.
Debbie is the Chief Partnership Officer at South Carolina First Steps. She has worked in the field of early childhood for two decades, in both South Carolina and Florida. Employed at the state office of South Carolina First Steps since 2000, she has been responsible for implementing best practices in early childhood programs through grants to local partners, developing and administering research projects, financial oversight, governance, community building, engaging business leaders, and state policy impacting early childhood programs. Debbie also has experience in local and national policy matters, having worked as staff for elected officials at both levels. Debbie earned her bachelor and master’s degrees at the University of Virginia, where she was in the second class of women.
Martha is the State Director for the 4K program at South Carolina First Steps. Her educator roots run deep. She has shared more than 35 years of experience in Early Childhood Education with the children of South Carolina.
She began her career as a sixth-grade teacher and then taught second, kindergarten and 4K. She has served as an elementary and an early childhood center principal in public schools, as well as district early childhood director. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Columbia College, and master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Administration and Supervision from the University of South Carolina. Martha was honored with the Outstanding Contribution to the Community Award by the University of South Carolina in 2012. Her strong commitment to public and private efforts has brought Martha to her current role with South Carolina First Steps. Martha began as a Regional Coordinator in 2013 and became the State Director of 4K after the first legislative expansion of the 4K Program in early 2014. She and her husband have an adult son—who along with his wife have given Martha a beautiful granddaughter. They all are proud to live in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Early Childhood Advisory Council Program Manager
Cassie is the inaugural Program Manager for the Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC) and serves on the senior management team. Cassie joined the SC First Steps staff in February 2017 as a program officer where she provided technical assistance to county First Steps partnerships until she accepted the Program Manager position in January 2019. In addition to managing the business of the ECAC, Cassie also provides project management of First Steps’ responsibilities in fulfillment of the $3.5 million federal Preschool Development Grant which was awarded to the SC Department of Social Services in December 2018. Before joining the SC First Steps staff Cassie was executive director of the SC School Improvement Council and a faculty member at the College of Education at the University of South Carolina. Simultaneously she was a state coordinator of the SC Education Policy Fellowship Program, an initiative of the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, DC. Cassie holds a BA in Theatre from William Paterson University and a master’s in Human Behavior and Conflict Management from Columbia College. She is the mother of four and grandmother of one. Her awards and recognitions include being a Riley Institute Diversity Fellow and a recipient of the Child Advocate of the Year award from the SC Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Betty Gardiner assumed the role of Director of Grantmaking and Development in 2019. Since joining the First Steps team in 2006, Betty has served in several capacities within the organization, including grants development, data system administration, and supporting the local First Steps partnerships with data collection, program implementation, needs assessment and strategic planning, accountability, and reporting. Her prior experience includes positions in grant writing and communications. Betty earned her undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina and her MBA/MA degrees from Southern Methodist University.
Chelsea Richard is the Strategic Impact Manager at South Carolina First Steps. Prior to this role, she was at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control for four years as the coordinator for two statewide, population-level health surveys (the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and Children’s Health Assessment Survey), as well as the data analyst for the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System.
Chelsea is currently an Epidemiology PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina (USC)’s Arnold School of Public Health. Her anticipated dissertation will look at the intersection of disability, prescription opioid use, and pregnancy. To fund her PhD studies, Chelsea received the Presidential Fellowship, which is the most prestigious university-wide award for study at the doctoral level. Currently, at USC, she is the President of the Delta Omega Honor Society (Mu Chapter), as well as the Secretary of Data Management for the Graduate Student Association. She earned a Master of Science in Public Health in Epidemiology from the USC in 2015 and a Bachelor of Science in Biology (Magna cum Laude) from the University of Massachusetts – Boston in 2012. Chelsea is originally from Norfolk, MA and is married to Drew Richard, a residential appraiser for Richland County, SC. They are pet parents to Chevy (beagle-treeing walker coonhound rescue, age 5) and José (domestic shorthair rescue, age 1).
Finance and Audit Director
Senior Local Partnership Fiscal Manager
4K Fiscal Manager
Local Partnership Fiscal Manager
Chief Partnership Officer
Director of Parenting Programs
Parents as Teachers Assistant
4K State Director
4K Data Manager
4K Outreach Coordinator