Our Story

Transforming the Lives of Children in Central Ohio for Over 50 Years

Though Action for Children has grown and evolved significantly since its founding in 1972, our vision and core values remain the same: to do whatever we can to make high-quality child care available to residents of central Ohio.

History: Making Good on Our Promise

Action for Children is a pacesetter, leader and collaborator in behalf of young children. In word and deed, the agency has been an advocate for children and families since it was established in 1972 as the vision of social worker and philanthropist Cee Cullman and her colleague Rosa Hightower, executive director of Central Community House Day Care Center.

For over 50 years, Action for Children has increasingly pushed the envelope to offer programs and services that meet the times – and meet the needs of our children and our community. Over these four decades, we’ve continued to shift the paradigm, first to acceptance of the reality of moms in the workforce, next to child care being more than babysitting, then to awareness that child care and education go hand-in-hand.

For over 50 years, Action for Children has provided information and resource services to 500,000 people, The Art of Positive Parenting (TAPP) workshops to 10,000, and provider workshops to 250,000. It has touched the lives of three generations of children – Making Good on Our Promise for four decades.

“You can’t care without education and you can’t educate without care,” became the watchwords of the late 80s and 90s. As we entered the 21st century, we shifted the paradigm once again to reflect the crucial role of child care from infancy with a vision of “transforming the future of child care into quality early learning experiences for every child in central Ohio.”

Action for Children transformational effect and influence has helped change the face of child care experiences.  We have benefited from passionate leadership, dedicated staff, and a supportive community. Achieving our mission is a shared responsibility. So Action for Children works with others, providing leadership and access to comprehensive information for community decision-making. Our partners include: families, employers, child care and early learning professionals, human service organizations, neighborhoods, educators, funders, policymakers and faith-based organizations.


Presidents:  Cee Cullman, James Horan, Shirley Rhodes, Elizabeth Schilling, Nappy Hetzler, Ann Farrell Hughes, Russell Jordan, Betty Macintosh

Cee Cullman and Rosa Hightower recognized the need for young children to be in quality settings when their mothers were at work. The 70s were a time when more and more women were entering the workforce and there were not many places for children. The agency was founded as Community Coordinated Child Care (4C) in recognition of “growing concern for the health, welfare and safety of children who must be cared for outside their homes while their parents are at work or retrain for job experiences.  Renamed in 1979, Action for Children was established as a resource and referral agency to help parents find child care and increase the number of available, affordable, quality child care options.

The board of directors was first led by the founder, Cee Cullman – and by chief executives Dorothy Reynolds, Hannah Dillard, and Margaret Hamilton during the agency’s first decade. Over the years, the agency has worked with multiple stakeholders – parents, the early childhood professional community, area schools and colleges, funders, legislators, and community leaders – to drive higher quality in child care and early learning and to effectively influence policy decisions.  It has made the issue a part of the conversation locally, within the state and nationally.

The agency was transformative, in raising the view of a child care worker from “baby sitter” to a child care and early learning professional – offering classes in child development, child management, health and safety. Over the years, the agency has recruited, registered and trained thousands of family home child care providers.


Presidents: Floradelle Pfahl, Muriel Tice, Don Bender, Lou Briggs, Mary Lazarus

In 1983, Diane Bennett became CEO, beginning a nearly 30 year period of steady, maturing, and passionate leadership of central Ohio’s resource and referral agency.  The threads of Action for Children’s history are seen throughout the community. In 1986, the School Age Child Care (SACC) program was begun and by 1995 all Franklin County school districts had an afterschool program. Today many schools and organizations have afterschool programs that arose through consultation and technical assistance from Action for Children’s SACC Specialist. Right From the Start, created in 1989, set the stage for the importance of collaboration with higher education, MR/DD, Head Start.

In 1986, before the days of computers and cell phones, Phonefriend was started by Action for Children to provide a warm-line for children home alone. Action for Children staff trained volunteers who provided the reassuring voice, along with activities and homework help, for thousands of children who called Monday through Friday from 3:30 until 5:30. This was valuable since Ohio has no legal age when children can stay home alone. This spurred the creation and publication of the widely used booklet, When Can My Child Stay Home Alone. The agency’s chief executives during this second decade were   Martha Hamilton and Diane Bennett.


Presidents:  Sam Koon, Judy Fountain Yesso, Ann Pizzuti, Adam Troy, Tanny Crane

In 1993, Action for Children was selected by the Dayton Hudson Foundation and Target Stores for the Family-to-Family program that provided nationally recognized training leading to provider home accreditation and a more professional family home provider. The Learning Begins Right From the Start parent education movement was begun in 1996 as an offshoot from emerging brain research that was to raise awareness about the importance of stimulating and nurturing children from birth.

As a United Way member agency and Start Smart participant, Action for Children provided programming for national accreditation for centers and the CDA credential program preparation for center teachers and home providers to increase their skills and knowledge. Beginning in these years, the agency has provided training for center providers – everything from Cooks Workshops to Directors Institutes.

Action for Children merged The Art of Positive Parenting (TAPP), a 20-year old parent education program based in Columbus, into its services for parents in 2000 and began offering TAPP workshops and classes in central Ohio.

Action for Children worked with the education community to produce guidelines to establish developmentally appropriate practices for preschoolers, infants and toddlers and school-agers.  These later served as the foundation for the creation of standards-based curricula for child care and early learning in 2002.

Publications released during these years included the time-honored guide and checklist for parents – Take the Time, The Five Cs of Choosing Child Care. Other releases were Recognizing Sexual Abuse, When Can Your Child Stay Home Alone;  Tips for Working Parents, and a three-part series of cards addressing the risk factors for Shaken Baby Syndrome and the ways to  handle  typical infant/toddler developmental issues like crying ,temper tantrums and fears and anxieties.


Presidents:  Tanny Crane, Mary Cusick, Steve Johnston, Carole Watkins, Rhonda Fraas, Jeff Cullman

With the rising cost of child care at the turn of the century, Action for Children has been leading the state in finance reform efforts, studying the costs and impacts of different approaches to financing quality child care and early learning. During these years, the agency began working with partners statewide on a plan for an integrated early childhood system. In 2002, it released a strategic framework for building an early learning system for Ohio’s children from birth through five, resting on the research that shows that early experiences strongly influence school readiness.

Finance reform and the strategic framework formed the foundation for a 10-year plan authorized by the Ohio Board of Education to assure that all children birth to five would be “kindergarten ready.” The action plan was released in 2006 by the School Readiness Solutions Group, a 50-member task force that included Diane Bennett and board presidents Tanny Crane, Mary Cusick and Carole Watkins. Diane co-chaired the Finance Committee with Dr. Mark Sniderman, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

Action for Children was selected by the state to pilot Step Up to Quality and was a collaborator in Ohio’s Early Learning Initiative (ELI) with the Franklin County Early Learning Consortium from 2005 until funding was cut in 2010.  ELI offered the opportunity to introduced new and innovative service offerings to child care programs, particularly in support of back-office or shared service functions.  However, the loss of ELI funding had a devastating effect on the agency, including a reduction in force of more than 20.

In 2010, the agency was selected by the state to provide the statewide curriculum for Child Abuse and Neglect Training. Action for Children developed and wrote the curriculum for two new programs specifically addressing fathers and mothers, The Art of Positive Parenting: The Father Factor and The Art of Positive Parenting: Mothers Matter, and is implementing these programs, designed to enhance the roles of fathers and mothers in the lives of their children, in the community. In addition, the TAPP curriculum is being used by the courts to support Putting the Children First, a mandatory parenting workshop for parents who have filed for divorce or dissolution. In 2012, Action for Children added an online version of this workshop.

During this decade, Action for Children developed three standards-based early learning kits for parents to help them prepare their young children for school.  These kits – Literacy: The Joy of the Journey, Adventures in Math and Adventures in Science – are distributed to families with young children living in low-income communities in central Ohio and, through funding from AEP for the Science kits, to low-income families in AEP’s footprint communities in states outside of Ohio as well.

In February 2012, Action for Children was named by United Way of Central Ohio’s Champion of Children as the first agency recipient of the Champion of Children Award.

As phase one in the Kids Come First capital campaign, the agency underwent a renovation of its Jefferson Avenue location.  Conference rooms were relocated to the main floor, technology was updated, and work stations were modernized.


Presidents: Jeff Cullman, Jane Grote Abell, Holly Goodstein Stokes, Andy Alderman, Diana Westhoff

Action for Children entered its fifth decade with a transition in leadership as Diane Bennett retired after 29 years as CEO and a national search for her replacement brought Eric Karolak back to his home state to head the agency.

Transition in nonprofit funding continued as Action for Children, still recovering from the elimination of the Early Learning Initiative and resulting staff reductions, endured the shift from agency funding model to contract service models at the City of Columbus and the United Way of Central Ohio.  The adjustments made by leadership and staff assured the agency posted positive financial results with revenue returning to pre-ELI levels, a 43 percent increase over 2012.

In 2015, Small Steps Big Benefits launched as the agency’s signature annual fundraiser.  In 2017, the event transformed from a traditional gala into a central Ohio’s only celebrity spelling bee.  More than $400,000 has been raised to support Action for Children programs, including grants to local early childhood programs.

During this period, Action for Children welcomed new voices and pursued new collaborations, including FutureReadyColumbus (originally Learn 4 Life), the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnership grant awarded to at the Ohio State University, and the new Head Start grant awarded to the YMCA of Central Ohio. Action for Children was the first grantee of FRC/L4L, operating the Ready for Success teacher-coaching program successfully for three years. With both of the Head Start grants, Action for Children staff helped draft the grant applications and provided important start up services around recruitment and enrollment, and teacher education services.  Through the instrumental role of our Board member, Dr. Chery Achterberg, an Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Pipeline was created extending from Action for Children (Child Development Associate) to Columbus State Community College (CDA and Associate degree), to OSU where selected students are awarded full-ride scholarships for the final two years of a Bachelor’s course of study in return for a promise to remain in the early childhood field in central Ohio.  This one-of-a-kind in the nation program creates a professional pathway so desperately needed in our field.

Action for Children’s Child Development Associate (CDA) program, which prepares teachers in the child care and early learning field for the paraprofessional certification, became the first such program in Ohio designated “Gold Standard” by the Council for Professional Recognition, the DC-based national organization that administers the CDA.

Advocacy remained a key area of activity.  In 2013, Karolak and former Board President Tanny Crane testified in support of extending eligibility for publicly-funded child care and with others won an important state policy change that assures continuity of care for up to 13 weeks in the event of disruptions in parental employment.  And, finally, after being a policy objective of Action for Children and our many allies for decades, the state required licensing of child care programs as a condition of their receipt of state funding.

At the federal level, Karolak was invited to participate as the only community nonprofit leader in the only congressional briefing on early childhood of the 115th Congress in 2017.  Action for Children provided input to the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and, as part of a national network of state and local advocates, successfully won the largest increase in CCDBG funding ever (nearly $2.4 billion), which brought nearly $80 million to Ohio in 2018.


Launched The BOSS and The Village to support child care professionals of all types in central Ohio, improving the quality and financial stability of child care programs.



Learn More

To find out more about the history of Action for Children, as well as its future, contact our team today.