Women of Distinction Awards 2014
Six women to be honored at Women of Distinction Luncheon
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Woman of Distinction
A small start-up museum in Norwalk has become an award-winning laboratory for early childhood education and a cherished community resource, led by its long-time executive director Rhonda Kiest.
At Stepping Stones Museum for Children (Best of the Gold Coast Connecticut 2013), Rhonda is in charge of creating quality, interactive environments where children can learn about the world through play. It’s not a responsibility she takes lightly, and she has collaborated with dozens of public and private organizations over the years to create programs that improve children’s lives in the areas of health and literacy.
In 2006 Rhonda helped start Healthy Children, Healthy Communities, an initiative of 50 organizations including area businesses, government agencies, hospitals and schools to promote the health and well being of children and families. The museum’s popular Healthyville exhibit is now traveling to other children’s museums and science centers throughout the country.
She also led a strategic planning initiative for Norwalk ACTS, a support network of 40 community leaders and organizations—including Stepping Stones—working to better the lives and futures of Norwalk children and youth from the cradle to career learning continuum. This led to the development of the Early Language and Literacy Initiative (ELLI) in 2012 in partnership with Norwalk Community College, the Norwalk Housing Authority and Literacy How.
Stepping Stones’ now runs the ELLI Lab School for children ages three to five, offering full- and half-day learning programs for reading, writing and healthy growth and development as well as providing teacher training and after-school and parent programs.
“Due to Rhonda’s relentless passion for our community she has become an unstoppable champion of Norwalk ACTS, says Dr. David Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College. “She and her team have formed an exquisite collaboration with our Early Child Education program, with the museum literally becoming a learning laboratory for hundreds of early childhood educators.”
Rhonda also serves on the advisory board of the Junior League of Stamford Norwalk and on the search committee for Norwalk’s Superintendent of Schools. She has served on the Connecticut team for the Children’s Outcome Project based in Washington, D.C., and is a board member of the Association of Children’s Museums as well as a national peer reviewer for the Museum Assessment Programs of the American Alliance of Museums.
Says Stepping Stones board chair Sandra Miklave: “Rhonda can be described as a transformational leader who cares deeply about the museum and the broader community. She allows the mission to guide every decision and works to build collaborations both within her team and with the local, state and farther reaching community.”