Iowa AEYC has grant and scholarship opportunities for members and others in the Iowa early care and education workforce. If you are interested in a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Iowa Scholarship, go to the T.E.A.C.H. page for more information.


Tony Lacy Membership Scholarships Awarded! Click here for the list of recipients!

Every year at the Annual Early Care and Education Fall Institute Iowa AEYC presents three awards to honor leaders in our Field. 
Children's Champion
Awarded to a person who has made a significant contribution on a statewide level to improve the quality of care and education of young children. The person can be any professional, legislator, public figure, volunteer, policy maker, advocate, or any Iowan who has demonstrated an outstanding service or achievement to benefit Iowa's young children.
Friend of Young Children
Awarded to an Iowa AEYC member who has made a significant contribution to improving the quality of care and education of young children and/or Iowa AEYC.
Educator of the Year
Awarded to an Iowa AEYC member who has made a significant contribution to improve the quality of care and education of young children in her/his role as a teacher, teaching assistant, or child development home provider; working directly with young children, ages birth to age eight.

Tony Lacy Memorial Membership Scholarship

The Tony Lacy Memorial Membership Scholarship pays for individual Iowa AEYC membership, including her/his membership into the local chapter of Iowa AEYC and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Funds are raised for the scholarships with raffle baskets submitted by the Iowa AEYC governing board, staff, and local chapters at the Fall Institute and applications are usually accepted late winter/early spring and awarded after the April governing board meeting.

Name Position City
Brook Bockman Hjerleid Director Decorah
Shelly Christensen Registered Child Development Home Provider Atlantic
Mary Doherty Teacher & Assistant Director Norwalk
Heidi Douma Instructor Sibley
Mariah Dusynski Registered Child Development Home Provider Story City
Kellie Harding Director Council Bluffs
Wendi Harrah Registered Child Development Home Provider Clarion
Tanya Henderson Nursery Caregiver Centerville
Grace Higdon Director Altoona
Sarah Hoffman Director & Lead Teacher Cedar Rapids
Jodie Hubka Director Lime Springs
Emmy Marker Teacher's Assistant Davenport
Jeannie Miller
Provider Services Specialist
Latino Provider Network Coordinator
Des Moines
Tiffany Raymond Lead Infant & Toddler Teacher Prairie City
Jill Ridenour Lead Teacher Independence
Brooke Sanders Universal Pre-K Teacher Johnston
Anita Schuckert Registered Child Development Home Provider Iowa City
Alicia Scoggin Registered Child Development Home Provider Fort Dodge
Amanda Sharp Lead Infant Teacher Van Meter
Tyesha Wright Floater Des Moines



Children's Champion Award

Cherie Kennedy
Cherie Kennedy began completion of an early childhood education degree at a junior college as a non-traditional student. She completed her degree in record time, with the highest honors, while working a full-time job, volunteering, and taking on additional responsibilities to cover the cost of her education. Cherie's commitment to early childhood education and passion for helping children was evident then and now. Her dedicated work in providing consultation services to area providers has greatly impacted public awareness of the need to invest in these services.
Cherie plays a vital role volunteering at many public events related to early childhood education. Her commitment to joining committees, providing trainings, and serving as a resource to anyone who needs her has been an asset statewide. Colleagues in the field regard her with high esteem as a mentor, educator, and champion of children.
Cherie has also been involved with many early childhood initiatives and served on many committees in the Dubuque area, including the governing board for Iowa AEYC. She has been part of the Dubuque Quality Care Alliance, Dubuque County Empowerment, Dubuque County Early Childhood, Quality Rating System, Iowa Preschool Quality Program Standards, and the list goes on and on. If it involves Early Childhood Care Education, she is there to share her vast knowledge and experience as well as to add support.
Cherie facilitated the Iowa Preschool Quality Program Standards with the Dubuque Montessori schools and made the intense process thought provoking and fun. With her profound knowledge of early childhood development, schools were able to identify their strengths and challenges and implement changes. The result was better practices to more effectively meet the needs of the children entrusted to their care.
Cherie has a gift when it comes to teaching and mentoring adults who work with children. She is kind and respectful in every situation. She challenges you to do your best and always reflect. Her dedication to the field has impacted thousands of providers and her support of young children is unparalleled.

Friend of Young Children Awards

Jill Uhlenberg

Dr. Jill Uhlenberg has dedicated her life to the early childhood field for a span of forty years, starting as an early childhood classroom teacher then moving to the University of Northern Iowa, where she has been a cornerstone for the Early Childhood Program. Jill's professional career has directly affected the entire age span of early childhood, birth through age eight. She touches every person she encounters with compassion, patience, and devotion.

At the University of Northern Iowa's Child Development Center (UNI-CDC), she moved from long-term substitute teaching to Program Coordinator. She served for 15 years in that position before moving to UNI's Department of Curriculum and Instruction (Early Childhood Education division). She held virtually every office for the National Coalition for Campus Children's Centers including president, secretary, treasurer, newsletter/journal editor, and conference co-chair. In recognition of her outstanding service she received the National Coalition for Campus Children's Centers Director of the Year Award. Jill's service to the National Association for the Education of Young Children has included three years as Accreditation Commissioner for the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs and Accreditation Validator where she completed 78 program validation visits in six states, and at three US Army Europe (USAREUR) sites.

During her long career, Jill has taught approximately 1,373 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral education students at UNI. Her teaching, mentoring, and guidance is currently impacting over 27,000 Iowa children each school year. She always makes everyone feel welcome and genuinely wants to help any student, faculty, or staff that comes to her for guidance.

Jill has served on numerous boards and committees at the local, state, and national level. she served as treasurer for the Black Hawk Chapter of Iowa AEYC, and helped organize numerous conferences and workshops. She authored 19 book chapters and articles related to various early childhood topics. Jill also helped secure millions of dollars in grant funding for CEESTEM education at UNI, and helped establish the UNI Ramps and Pathways Curriculum utilized nationwide. She has been an invited clinician at numerous early childhood conferences at the regional, national, and international level.

Although she is retiring from her UNI professorship, she plans many more years of service to Iowa's young children as a volunteer with the Regents' Center for Early Childhood Development.


Mary Airy

The Board of Iowa AEYC annually selects a recipient for the Friend of Young Children award from among our membership. This person typically has exemplified our vision and mission throughout a career, truly impacting the lives of young children in Iowa. The award often goes to someone who has had a profound impact on the work of the Association as well. This year the Iowa AEYC Board is honoring Mary Airy with the 2017 Friend of Young Children Award.

Mary came "up through the ranks" as a teacher, mentor trainer, and consultant. She has always been a leader in the early childhood field. She has served on numberous leadership teams at the Area Education Agency (AEA) and across Iowa supporting young children.

Mary's advocacy was instrumental in the passage of legislation for the State Voluntary Preschool program. She played a pivotal role in the development and implementation of the Iowa Early Learning Standards and the Iowa Quality Preschool Program Standards. Mary has also served on the Early Childhood State Leadership team working on collaboration between the AEAs and the Department of Education.

At Grant Wood AEA Mary advocated for literacy development. She was willing to lead both within the agency and in the school districts. She collaborated on a number of literacy promotion projects and her ideas and hard work benefitted children in the Grant Wood regions. Mary provided countless hours of professional development and technical assistance to numerous staff across the Grant Wood AEA on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Her expertise in early childhood is deeply respected by her colleagues across the state.

Mary has served on the Iowa AEYC Governing Board and was President of the Executive Board. She is thorough and patient in her leadership; her passion for children has always been evident. She knows board procedure, embraces change, and supports board members on a regular basis. Her attention to detail is a huge benefit to the advancement of Iowa AEYC.

Mary not only supports young children through her work but she also volunteers on state and local committees to advocate for and support quality care and education. She is focused unapologetically on what is best for the children of Iowa and is truly a Friend of Young Children.


Educator of the Year Award

Kari Williams

Kari Williams makes a positive impact everyday on the early childhood field. She has worked for more than ten years at Head Start and has many years of community service. She volunteered in a Head Start classroom as a single parent of a preschool age child. Originally hired as a cook at the Presbyterian Head Start program she transitioned from part-time cook, to center-aide, to teacher associate. She finally found her calling as a lead teacher.

As a full-time mom, wife, and student, Kari always finds it within herself to give to all of her students. She has the devotion and charisma necessary to provide a safe, fun environment where children learn mutual respect and fairness. Her classroom is structured in a way that encourages positive interactions and active engagement. She creates a climate where children feel confident in their abilities to learn and work with others. She does an exceptional job as a leader, communicating with families, colleagues, and community members.

Kari serves on the early Childhood Advisory council for the early childhood program at Northeast Iowa community College and is enrolled in the Elementary Education program at the University of Dubuque. She advanced her career by continually increasing her skills and knowledge. She is sought out by peers and administrators for her knowledge of Head Start and early childhood.

Kari is always striving to improve the lives of those around her. Her passion for helping children and families is apparent to all who encounter her. She is highly skilled at working with those who need additional resources to better their lives and those of their children. Parents and children connect to Kari with an unbreakable bond. She truly helps build a strong foundation for lifelong learning.


Pinnacle Award

Barb Merrill

Barbara Merrill served as Executive Director of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children from January 2007 to June 2017. Prior to her time at the Iowa AEYC Barb was the T.E.A.C.H. Project Manager for Iowa, which began in 2003. When she joined Iowa AEYC in 2007 she brought the T.E.A.C.H. Program to the Office where it has been housed for the past 10 years. During her time as Executive Director she led efforts to grow the $100,000 nonprofit Association with one staff person to a $3 million agency with over 20 employees. These efforts took place while re-affiliating with NAEYC and operating six significant ongoing projects.

Barb helped develop a reputation for Iowa AEYC as a leadership organization in Iowa in terms of early education and care professional development, system building, and advocacy efforts. In so doing, Barb became well known across the state and nation and was recognized as a reputable, indispensible, and innovative conference speaker and early childhood leader. She has always had a special interest and focus in improving the education, compensation, and professionalism of the childcare workforce. This was evident during Barb’s time as a community college adjunct instructor, Head Start teacher, childcare center director, a Parents as Teachers home visitor, family childcare provider, and a CCR&R consultant. Throughout these experiences, Barb’s passion for mentoring emerging leaders took hold and became an important part of her work at the Iowa AEYC.

Barb, although retired, works part time for the T.E.A.C.H. National Center, helping support the development of T.E.A.C.H. and WAGE$ programs in other states across the nation. She is proud of her accomplishments and work throughout her career, and is due, in part, to her background in early childhood education. She has an earned B.S. in Child Development from the University of Maine, an M.S. in Adult Education from Drake University, and held a teaching license for grades PK-6.

She is married to her husband Rob, and together they have two children of whom she is extremely proud. In addition, she is the grandmother of six and adores her time with them watching them grow and learn during their early childhood years.