Helping communities
achieve their collective goals
for children and families

Facilitation | Project Management | Leadership

who we are

Our team is passionate about making the world a better place for children and families by harnessing the strengths and ideas that live within communities. As our name states, the first 5 years of life are fundamental. Our role is to support cross-sector leaders in early childhood, to help make their collective vision for children and families a reality.  

Our MIssion

Our mission is to support community-based initiatives in achieving their collective goals for children and families.

what we do

We support initiatives by mobilizing funding, providing staff for facilitation and project management, building community partnership, managing marketing and branding, supporting research & data, and building public will. 

Team collaboration photo

Our values

We actively pursue these values and foster their thriving, internally and externally.

Anti-racism, Equity, and Social Justice

We commit to building systems and programs that support all children and families, and to rebuilding and replacing systems and programs that cause systemic oppression. We believe that diversity is a strength worth celebrating. We believe fair does not mean equal, and regularly examine our privilege and power dynamics.

Anti-racism, Equity, and Social Justice

We commit to building systems and programs that support all children and families, and to rebuilding and replacing systems and programs that cause systemic oppression. We believe that diversity is a strength worth celebrating. We believe fair does not mean equal, and regularly examine our privilege and power dynamics.

Trust and Respect

We believe in the principles of trust, not control. We acknowledge that trust must be cultivated intentionally, through continuous communication and authentic conversations. We engage in dialogue about what unites, divides, and challenges us. Through trust and respect, we can move ideas quickly into action.

Local Voice

We believe children, families, and communities are integral in creating policy and making program decisions that impact their lives. We believe local organizations and individuals are best suited to identify their needs and design solutions. We commit to promoting their desires to key leaders and decision makers.

Integrity and Transparency

We believe every person and child has inherent worth and deserves respect. We assume positive intent and consistently look for opportunities to work with others in support of shared goals, not personal gain.

Collaborative Relationships

We believe the foundation of successful collaborative efforts are authentic relationships. We purposefully invest time and resources into building stable trust-based relationships, amongst organizations and individuals.

we currently support the following initiatives

HMG-affiliate-Pierce County

Help Me Grow (HMG) Pierce County is a linkage, resource, and referral system that connects families of young children to community supports. Over 130 individuals representing more than 50 organizations have come together to promote the healthy development of all children pregnancy through 5 by: connecting families to information, activities, and community-based resources; nurturing family relationships and offering individual supports; and partnering with families and communities to improve the availability and quality of services.


Northwest Early Learning Coalition is an established regional coalition linking five county coalitions (Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom), which include more than 100 organizations and professionals in Northwest Washington state. The Coalition exists to make excellence in early learning achievable and sustainable for every child in northwest Washington.

Project Child Success logo

Project Child Success (PCS) is a collaborative movement to improve the wellbeing of children and families in Pierce County. Since 2008, community partners have come together to achieve a vision that all children thrive in nurturing relationships and environments. Today, we proudly cultivate community action with over 175 partners including parents, licensed child care providers, health care providers, school districts, business leaders, and family/youth-serving community organizations, to name a few. PCS is a space for partners to come together and share resources and ideas, co-design projects and programs, and advocate for policies that support children and families.

Washington Communites for Children logo

The Washington Communities for Children (WCFC) is a ten Region coalition network with a mission to connect local and statewide efforts to improve the wellbeing of children, families, and communities. WCFC regions have trusted relationships with over 750 local organizations and individuals including early learning providers, social service agencies, child welfare organizations, libraries, school districts, public health agencies, higher education, families, and many others.

Meet Our Team

Meet Our Team

Susan Barbeau

Executive Director

Susan has led the F5F team as the chief executive for the past 7 years. She is passionate about changing systems by harnessing the power that resides in communities. When not at work, she can be found experimenting in the kitchen, skiing down mountains, and challenging her husband and son to board games.

Mirna Fritz

Finance & Operations Manager

Mirna has been managing the finances and business operations of F5F for 2 years. She loves numbers and the thrill of balanced accounts. She is passionate about learning new things every day and solving perplexing puzzles. She loves the water. Whenever the weather is nice, you’ll find her exploring waterfalls or sitting by the bay.

Kate Ginn

Chief Operating Officer

Kate Ginn is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and has been the Program Manager for Help Me Grow Pierce County since 2018. She steps into the role as Chief Operating Officer for First 5 FUNdamentals on August 1, 2021. Kate is passionate about supporting caregivers with young children, and ensuring that programs and policies are designed by the families who use them. Outside of work, Kate enjoys singing, dancing, studying herbalism, and eating her husband's cooking with her daughter. 

Rachel Hall

State Lead for Washington Communities for Children

Rachel is the State Lead for Washington Communities for Children. She believes deeply in the beauty and power of relationships, and that only together can we truly improve the wellbeing of children and families in our community. When not at work, Rachel enjoys cooking, exploring the great Pacific Northwest outdoors, and spending time with dear family and friends.

Penny Larkins

Administrative Support

Penny has been caring for the office needs of F5F since 2016. She supports team projects, fundraising, and events with enthusiastic attention to detail, all while nurturing community connections. When away from the office, Penny enjoys gardening, home projects, and being a grandmother.

Emily Poncik

Family Connects Manager – Help Me Grow Pierce County

Emily oversees the Family Connects program in Pierce County, which provides nurse visits to families of newborns. She is a proud foster mama who is passionate about surrounding new parents with a community support system, with hopes to reduce the incidence of child welfare involvement in Pierce County. When not trying to save the world, Emily is an outdoor enthusiast who spends her free time exploring new trails with her wife and son, traveling the world, long-distance cycling, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. 

Masa Kawamura

Project Child Success Manager

Masa is the Co-Manager for Project Child Success. He is a firm believer in change and the power of community to come together for a collective better future. In his down time, Masa enjoys taking his puppy to the park and on hikes, exploring nature, and creating art. 

Cecily Croskey

Help Me Grow Pierce County Manager

Cecily is a native of Tacoma WA, who brings with her over 12 years of experience partnering with children and families through community programs. She has a passion to see all families grow and thrive. Cecily is the founder of Girls Hearts on Fire, an organization focused on the empowerment of young women. She has the privilege of being elected as one of the Board of Directors for Impact Schools, and serves as a committee member for the City of Tacoma's Events and Recognition Committee. Cecily's vision as a mother, professional, and entrepreneur is to empower our community's children, youth, and families to walk boldly in their passions and create the life of their dreams. Life is a great balancing act, so to refuel Cecily enjoys adventuring in the PNW and traveling to beaches both near and far. 

Linden Obel

Program Manager

Linden leads the Northwest Early Learning Coalition and hosts the Family & Community Outreach State Action Team as part of Washington Communities for Children. She is an advocate of catalyzing community voice, building cross-sector partnerships, and moving ‘at the speed of trust’ to drive equitable health outcomes for children, families, and communities. Outside of work, Linden loves spending time outdoors (especially trail running, hiking, biking, and downhill skiing), listening to a podcast or audiobook, and perfecting her family’s favorite breakfast foods.

Meet Our Board Of Directors

Jen Smith portrait

Jennifer Smith

Board President

Jen is a former pediatric intensive care nurse and Co-author of two books to help parents navigate the hospital experience with their critically ill children, she is also passionate about promoting the awareness of behaviorally-challenged children and their relationship with the adult leaders in their lives. Jen is married to Matt and is the mother of two daughters, Sadie (14) and Cora (11).Jen sits on the boards of Charles Wright Academy and the Zenith West Foundation -both of which also support the growth and development of children.

Aaron portrait

Aaron Schmookler

Board Vice President

Aaron Schmookler has dedicated his career to bringing out world-class communication and collaboration in working teams. He is the newest member to the F5F board, and resolute in his position that we must all come together to provide a solid start for all the kids in our community. What’s more important than kids, and the foundation they get in growing into adulthood?

Diane Kroll portrait

Diane Kroll

Board Secretary / Treasurer

Diane Kroll is an Early Learning Professional who has worked in the field for over 45 years. In her role as Director of Early Childhood Services at Puget Sound Educational Service District, she was responsible for overseeing the Education Component for ECEAP as well as managing multiple grants supporting the Child Care Community in King and Pierce Counties. Diane is currently co-founder of Imag(e)ine, an educational collaborative committed to offering professional development opportunities to EL Educators. Diane is a founding member of First Five Fundamentals.

Tom Herron portrait

Tom Herron

Board Member

Tom Herron is a pediatrician, who for the past 35 years has been helping families in the Gig Harbor community. He appreciates how communities impact children and their families. Outside of work he and his wife love cycling and indulging their grandchildren.

Jennifer Portrait

Jennifer Sass-Walton

Board Member/Northwest Early Learning Representative

Jennifer is the Child & Family Health Manager at Skagit County Public Health. She was one of the original co-chairs of the NW Early Learning regional coalition when it formed in 2005, and has remained active ever since. Supporting lifelong health and well-being, starting before birth, has long been a passion for Jennifer. She is dedicated to building a sustainable, equitable system of support for children and families in Skagit County and beyond. Jennifer and her husband Bob have four adult children and are new grandparents.

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