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Providing stepping stones to create success through education for children and families who have limited opportunities.

In Memoriam

September 6, 2018


A Stepping Stone Foundation sends their deepest condolences to the family of the Reverend Bill Smith who passed away on Monday, September 3, 2018. The Reverend’s legacy will always live on within our organization and the community at large. Often asking us to call him, “Just Bill”, he was a visionary and activist who inspired many of us to give of ourselves through our talents, time, monetary contributions, and most of all through living out our God-inspired and consciously chosen vocations.


A Stepping Stone Foundation would not have been possible if not for the leadership of the Reverend Smith and the congregation of Shadow Rock United Church of Church.  They believed that early education was crucial for all children and saw the woeful number of children not being served who would most benefit, so they decided to make a difference through their actions. Their difference and actions have allowed A Stepping Stone Foundation to now serve more than 1,800 families (about 5,000 people) in various school districts in Maricopa and Gila counties.


Below is a photograph of Bill with some of our children at a program visit with Al Molina.

Earlier this year, we had the honor of Reverend Smith delivering the invocation at our 11th Annual Cena y Serenata and we were so very grateful he and his family could join us.


Memorial Services will be held at Shadow Rock UCC located at 12861 N. 8th Avenue – Phoenix, AZ 85029 and begin at 10:30 am on Saturday, September 15, 2018. Parking is limited, so kindly plan accordingly-car pooling is encouraged. In lieu of flowers the family has asked for donations to be made to A Stepping Stone Foundation.


Our sincerest condolences,

Gabriel Escontrías, Jr., Ed.D.                                                    Cynthia Gattorna

Governing Board President                                                        Executive Director

A Stepping Stone Foundation                                                     A Stepping Stone Foundation

Another Affirmation of Family Literacy

A Stepping Stone Foundation Board Member, Gabriel Escontrías, Jr., sent me an article today about work similar to that of our LEAF (Literacy Elevates Arizona Families) Program in Phoenix.  It touts the rich return on investment that programs like LEAF have to society in concrete terms.


The article was published online at, (originally published at JAMA Pediatrics) and described the long-term benefits of quality early education programs with parental involvement.  In this case, the program studied was  Child-Parent Centers (CPC).


It showed “kids reached a higher level of education by age 35 than did ones enrolled in other preschool programs: CPC participants completed more years of schooling and were more likely to earn a postsecondary degree.”


The Scientific American article goes on to quote a former study done by Arthur Reynolds, a professor at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, in which he and his colleagues “found a “return on investment to society” of $10.83 per dollar for children who participated through preschool and $8.24 for those who participated through third grade. These numbers were calculated from higher earnings and tax revenue, and figured in reduced spending on the criminal justice system, child welfare and special education.”


This is exactly what we have been experiencing with our Stepping Stone Foundation-LEAF families with whom we have had contact over the twenty plus years required to see these kinds of results.


They talk about it, we DO it!

Lifelong proponents of education to be honored at the 11th Annual Cena y Serenta



Two of Arizona’s most influential advocates for quality and equitable education have been selected as the 2018 Distinguished Educational Leadership Community Impact awardees by A Stepping Stone Foundation for their decades of servitude and leadership to advancing education for all children and their families. Dr. Lattie F. Coor and Mrs. Elva Coor of the Center for the Future of Arizona will be honored at the 11th Annual Cena y Serenata presented by Valley Toyota Dealers on Friday, April 13th at Warehouse 215 in downtown Phoenix beginning at 6:30 in the evening.


The awardees were selected by the Cena y Serenata Committee for demonstrating: a long-term commitment to educational success, their active involvement in the community, making a significant impact to Arizona through their efforts and accomplishments, embracing the importance of providing stepping stones to create success through education for children and families who have limited opportunities, and for having demonstrated their passion for two-generational education approaches. A Stepping Stone Foundation Executive Director, Cynthia Gattorna remarked, “Dr. and Mrs. Coor are treasures to our community. They exemplify life-long actions to make Arizona a better place to learn and grow for all students, no matter what their background.”


Nominated by Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick, Chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges, she has witnessed their many contributions to Arizona and highlighted two recent contributions; Beat the Odds and SpeakOut AZ.


Beat the Odds is aimed at raising student achievement in schools with mostly low-income, predominantly Latino students, by training principals in how to improve leadership skills, which research shows is among the most effective ways for under-performing schools to improve student achievement.


SpeakOut AZ is designed to increase civic participation throughout Arizona and include civics curriculum in schools. Their strategies include, but are not limited to targeting early literacy and Pathways to Prosperity.


Dr. Coor and Mrs. Coor are architects of multi-faceted educational approaches to increase student and community success at all levels of our education systems. “Like A Stepping Stone Foundation, Dr. Coor and Mrs. Coor’s passions create milestones for students, families, and the community at large to be stronger together,” said Chancellor Harper-Marinick.


The benefit dinner co-chaired by Mrs. Jeanne Baker and Dr. Gabriel Escontrías, Jr. will benefit A Stepping Stone Foundation’s flagship program LEAF (Literacy Elevates Arizona Families). The program will be emceed by Ms. Arlety González and Mr. Octavio Pulido of Telemundo Arizona. Entertainment will feature Guitarist Gustavo Angeles and Rhythm Edition.


For more information about A Stepping Stone Foundation and the 11th Annual Cena y Serenata, go to or call 602-843-8281.

Please join us for our 11th Annual Cena y Serenta

Tickets are on sale now for $150 each and may be purchased online.  Cena-Flyer-2018

Recent Harvard Research

Mom working with preschoolers in 2013.

Dear Readers, please find and follow the link below regarding new research which affirms intuitive and previously proven best practices for early education.  It is certainly how A Stepping Stone has been practicing for the past 27 years! Enjoy! Cindy

Click Here for Recent Harvard Research Article.


Cena y Serenata 2018

I am very pleased to announce A Stepping Stone Foundation’s 11th Annual Cena y Serenata gala to benefit our children and families, which will be held FRIDAY, April 13th, 2018 at Warehouse 215 of the Bentley Projects just south of Downtown Phoenix on 215 E. Grant Street.  This wonderfully morphed warehouse is currently a unique event venue with an adjacent art gallery and we are delighted to be there for this year’s Cena.


This year’s event will feature local live band, Rhythm Edition, the amazing serenade music of guitarista Gustavo Angeles, a new awardee and as a special treat, one of our former preschoolers now in college will speak to our guests.


Stay tuned for more details and enjoy the picture from last year below!

Below from Left to Right:

Last year’s MC Dr. David Garcia; ED Cynthia Gattorna; MCCC Chancellor Maria Harper-Marinick; 2017 Event Chair, Jennifer Sanchez and 2018 Event Chair Dr. Gabriel Escontrias, Jr.

One Poignant Stepping Stone PART II

When our mom began our LEAF (Literacy Elevates Arizona Families) program this fall with her preschool child, we soon found out the she had been diagnosed with cancer.  She was taking chemotherapy treatments and the situation was and remains quite serious.  A few short weeks ago, the mom approached one of our staff and asked if they would take her baby with Down’s Syndrome and raise her if she passed away.


This situation was overwhelming to everyone touched by it.


Working with many organizational friends, the name of a local lawyer was given to us and the mom now has an appointment for a free consult regarding her immigration status and a quick review to see if she can be helped both with child custody issues surrounding her many children, and her own health issues.


We share this story because, although extreme, it is not particularly unusual among the families we serve.  A Stepping Stone not only provides a literacy intervention for families caught in inter-generational poverty, but  provides a stable environment that grows “social capital”.  Our program helps families make important connections in their neighborhoods. These connections include other families, health care, social services, access to continuing education and job training and in some cases like the mom in this story, legal assistance.

One Poignant Stepping Stone Story-PART I

Imagine being pregnant with your sixth child and learning that your husband has a very serious illness.  He is admitted to the hospital.  What will you do if he passes away? He is the sole bread-earner for the family and you do not have proper documentation to stay in the country, even though all your children do and you’ve lived here for more than two decades.


Then he passes away.


This is exactly what happened to one of the mothers enrolled in our program last year. Her husband passed away after being admitted to a local hospital.  The other families in our program and our staff surrounded her with love and care as she gave birth to her sixth child, who was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome.


Watch for the what happens next in tomorrow’s blog.



All of our Stepping Stone moms have begun online classes and work at their own pace.  Each Friday, they meet together in the adult education room just one building away from where their children attend Stepping Stone’s LEAF preschool.  Currently, Neida, one of the Stepping Stone office interns meets with them there to help them with any technical issues and provide content support as they work through their assignments.


We originally had four mothers participate, but one has moved to Mexico. Sadly, it was the one whose story I shared in my blog post. Interestingly she is a US citizen, but her husband is not, so she has rejoined him in the Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) area. The remaining moms’ ages range from 24-48.


Up Close and Personal

The mom who is 48 said all her older children are enrolled in college, but she had never finished her own education.  All her extended family that live here (all her children, her husband and brothers and sisters) have their permanent residence status or are US Citizens, but she has not. Her children used to ask her when she was going back to get her GED–one step in applying for permanent residency.  Now that she’s doing it, they are so proud of her!


This fall, A Stepping Stone Foundation had a bit of a hiccup for three mothers whose families had enrolled in our LEAF (Literacy Elevates Arizona Families) program located at the Bret Tarver Isaac Preschool teaching site in Phoenix.  This program, as many readers will remember, is a five-point family literacy program which consists of preschool, adult literacy, parenting classes, inter-generational learning activities and home visiting.  The hiccup occurred for these three mothers when the school district couldn’t find HSE (High School Equivalency) preparation classes for them.


Typically, the school district provides the courses onsite, but when all district avenues had been exhausted and we were informed they could not do so, two long-time Stepping Stone donors stepped in to pay the costs of GED online learning through Rio Salado Community College.  The following report is the first of many about which I intend to blog.


I spent three mornings helping the moms enroll online. They obtained a Maricopa Community Colleges ID and password and I will accompanied them so they ccould present their picture ID’s in person at Rio Salado College in Tempe and then enrolled in the 14 online week class.  Each mom must spend at least 4 hours on Friday mornings working on this coursework and have the option to work at home as well.


There was a bit a of a challenge getting connectivity (access to the internet). While all moms have at least a cell phone and/or an I-pad or similar, getting a reliable internet connection was challenging.  In the end, we prevailed and they began classes on Monday, October 16th.


Up Close and Personal:

One mother in particular shared her story about how it is she came to have four children at a young age. She was raped as a sophomore in high school and then dropped out from the stigma.  Today, the father of her children is a Mexican citizen and lives on the other side of the border and she sees him only rarely.


Her career goal is to become a doctor because she loves all things connected to the brain and brain development.  She knows this will take many years, but remembers being very good in school and believes she can do it.  The first step is to get her GED. She shared how passionate she was about learning everything she can. I shared with her that the road to be a physician can begin with a medical certificate in in something like hematology or becoming an registered nurse first.