Kelly O'Connor recognized for dedication

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Committed to turning her early learning (pre-school) students into little stars in preparation for kindergarten, Kelly O'Connor has just been recognized as a star in her own right.

O'Connor, who for the past 10 years has been director of early learning at the Greater Marco YMCA, was recently named a "Southwest Florida Star."

The kudos came from the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida, which recognizes the "hard work and dedication of child care providers in our area."

To be eligible for the recognition (O'Connor was modestly quick to point out that it wasn't an award) she submitted evidence and documents reflecting the quality of the care offered to Y early learners.

"Through your efforts, you have begun to lay the foundation for the development and growth of our youngest citizens," wrote Kristi Biffar, the Coalition's Early Childhood Specialist Supervisor.

Prior to her hiring (she had moved here from the Bronx to be with her aging parents "and best friends"), O'Connor had 23 years' experience working with special needs kids at St. Agnes Rehabilitation Center in New York.

Down the years she worked with children with attention deficit disorder, spina bifida, autism, Down's syndrome and paraplegic youngsters, for example.

"There were 12 children and four staff," O'Connor said, "so that was a high ratio for these severe disabilities."

She said her experience with a child coping with spina bifida helped her in one instance at the Y as well.

At the Y, she and three teachers take care of 46 early learners, and she said the end results are gratifying.

"They start out so small, and they're ready for Kindergarten when they leave," she said. "I love what I do. I would make videos all the time if I could."

Besides a declared mission of enhancing children's lives with the provision of "opportunities to positively impact the future," the Coalition mission is to develop "healthy, eager and successful learners, supported by well-informed parents, involved citizens and collaborative community partners."

For information on the Y's Early Learning Program, or on the Y's wide variety of programs and activities for adults and children, visit marcoymca.org or call 394-YMCA (9622). Follow on Twitter at greatermarcoymca, or on Facebook at marcoymca.

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