People & Partners

meet the people and partners helping out Thrive By Five

Meet the People & Partners Who Help Us Thrive

In order to ensure that all children in Pinellas County are ready for kindergarten, we rely on a diverse group of partners, committees, and individuals. Together, we can best align efforts and resources to make sure the right help gets in front of the right people — as efficiently as possible.

Steering Commitee

Comprising key players in the early childhood landscape, the Thrive By Five steering committee provides strategic guidance, direct access to a breadth of knowledge and resources, and unique opportunities to collaborate and align endeavors.

Marcie Biddleman

Dr. Marcie A. Biddleman serves as the Chief Executive Officer for the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (JWB), a publicly funded mission-driven organization with a 70-year history of improving the lives of children and families in Pinellas County. Dr. Biddleman oversees an annual budget of $62M (FY17) and workforce of 58, while ensuring policies set forth by the JWB Board of Directors are effectively implemented, funds are responsibly invested in programs with proven results, and innovative partnerships are created that benefit tens of thousands of Pinellas County children and families annually. These efforts not only strengthen children and families, but also schools and neighborhoods, so that our community is stronger.


Jalessa Blackshear

Jalessa Blackshear is a mother, visual and recording artist, student, social activist, and community organizer who resides in St. Petersburg, Florida. Born and raised in Cape May, New Jersey, Blackshear flocked to the Gulf of Mexico in 2011 to align with her ancestral roots.

Parent Representative

Lindsay Carson

Lindsay Carson is a hands-on nonprofit executive and early educator known for research-based decisions, performance management and efficient operational management; further recognized for building collaborative relationships to maximize community impact.

She effectively leads the Early Learning Coalition through leadership transition, deficit reduction and strengthening the reputation and partnerships of the organization in order to maximize services to children, families and providers.

Early Learning Coalition

Dr Choe

Dr. Ulyee Choe was appointed Director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County in September 2015. He is board certified in both internal medicine and infectious diseases and is currently an Associate Professor of Medicine with the Division of Infectious Disease and International Medicine at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. He is a graduate of the University of Florida where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology and received a Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine from Nova Southeastern University in 2005. He completed his internal medicine residency and infectious diseases fellowship at the University of South Florida in 2011. Prior to his appointment as the Director in Pinellas, Dr. Choe served as Director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk as well as Interim Director of the Florida Department of Health in Hardee County.

Florida Health Department

Dr Davis

Dr. Davis is a business executive and entrepreneur with extensive background and expertise in business strategy and management in operations, human resources, risk management, finance, facilities and real estate. He currently serves as the Head Start Director for Bay Area Head Start/Early Head Start programs with Lutheran Services, Inc. Prior to his current assignment, he served as the Director of Grants Management with Lutheran Services Florida, Inc. He is a former Visiting Professor of Management at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, and former Adjunct Professor of Management and Finance at St. Petersburg College. He is the former CEO of Bay Area Medical Supplies, Inc., and former Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for Danka Business Systems headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.


Jaime Dixon

Jaime Dixon is a program officer at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. She joined the Foundation in 2016 and is responsible for managing a portfolio of funded projects and coordinating annual grant-making activities, including continuous technical assistance and capacity support to all Funded Partners. Jaime has worked in the nonprofit sector for almost 10 years, most recently serving as the Grants Manager for another private foundation in Orlando, FL. She worked for five years in the nonprofit sector in both program and development roles. She graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, and received a Master’s in Human Development and Family Studies, with a specialization in program evaluation, from the University of Rhode Island.

Foundation for a Healthy St Pete

Dr Grego

Dr. Grego began his career as a classroom teacher with Hillsborough County Schools. He became a department head and then advanced to become Assistant Superintendent for Technical, Career & Adult Education, and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction. After serving 28 years with Hillsborough County Schools, he was selected as Superintendent of the Osceola County school district. There, he was credited with dramatic academic improvements, especially among minority students. He then served as Florida’s Interim Chancellor of K-12 Education. Before joining Pinellas County Schools, Dr. Grego joined the Educational Leadership faculty at the University of Central Florida, where he was an Associate Professor, teaching graduate and doctoral level courses.

Superintendent of PCS

Ray Hensley

Ray Hensley is the Maternal & Child Health Division Director at Florida Department of Health – Pinellas County Health Department. Mr. Hensley has an undergraduate degree in Psychology (Oberlin College), a Master’s degree in Gerontology (USF Tampa) and extensive experience in the social services field, especially in the areas of program planning and quality improvement. Mr. Hensley is a National Peer Reviewer for Healthy Families America (HFA) and a former member of the Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA) Accreditation Panel and the RPPC (Research Policy Practice Council). Mr. Hensley has provided numerous presentations nationally about home visiting and services to children and families. Additionally, he provides technical assistance for home visiting initiatives within Florida and across the U.S.

Health Department

Tom Kennedy

Tom Kennedy is a commercial real estate broker with Westport CRE. His client base ranges from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. As a dedicated single-parent father, his focus in early learning grew from “an enormous respect for children, their abilities and the recognition that having the best support systems for your children is primary. But with over 60% of children relying on outside care, investing in a stimulating and nurturing early childhood is more. It is the fundamental investment in our society, our economy and the success of our nation.”

Business Sector

Paula Keyser

Paula is a Family Resource Specialist in the Early Steps Program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Her son, Jeremy, is a 17 year old High School Student with Hydrocephalus, Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, Anxiety Disorder and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder. Paula has learned how to advocate and navigate both medical and the early intervention and educational systems to get the help her son needs. She has also learned the importance of collaboration and negotiation as she has traveled on this path.

Early Steps

April Lott

April Lott, LCSW is an eleven-year employee of Directions for Living and serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer. Ms. Lott is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with over three decades of experience in child welfare and social services. Prior to joining Directions for Living, Ms. Lott served in a variety of service and leadership roles within the human services industry, including serving as the CEO of a large not-for-profit residential program for abused and neglected children, serving as the principal for 5 alternative education schools, and working as protective investigator, probation officer and operating a private practice.

Directions for Living

Chuck Tiernan

Chuck Tiernan has 20 years’ experience in nonprofit education leadership positions, serving both the K-12 and higher education communities. Now in his third year at the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Chuck is leading a network of approximately two dozen community partners helping more working age people attain education credentials after high school, as well as building an education partnership around early learning in Southeast Hillsborough County. A graduate of the University of Washington, Chuck holds a Nonprofit Management Certification from UW – Tacoma and is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). He is a graduate of the Greater Tampa Chamber’s Leadership Tampa Class of 2018.

Community Foundation of Tampa Bay

Kate Bauer-Jones

“Building a solid foundation for a young person's future success by supporting their families is the keystone to strong, healthy communities.”

Leading Thrive By Five is Kate Bauer-Jones, an experienced and strategic leader with demonstrated success in education and nonprofit leadership. She moved back to the Tampa Bay area in 2017, after serving as President & CEO of the United Way of the Florida Keys, and is now enthusiastically committed to serving Pinellas County's youngest and their families.

Kate has spent her career in service to young people and the community supports that surround them, and is passionate about the collective success of every resident. From her work in early intervention with toddlers newly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder to her success securing funding to expand childcare scholarships for working families, Kate understands the importance not only of direct, intense intervention for the most vulnerable young people in a community but also the need for effective, efficient systems that work for all families in need.

Kate received a bachelor's degree in Anthropology, Religious Studies, and Astronomy from the University of Virginia before serving as a New York City Teaching Fellow in the South Bronx at the start of her career. She holds a Masters' degree in Education, Management, and Innovation earned while teaching special needs middle school students in Collier County, Florida, and completed some coursework toward a Doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of South Florida. She now lives in St. Petersburg with her wife and rescue puppies.


Project Teams

As part of the formula to achieve this critical work, Thrive By Five has established Project Teams, dedicated to focus areas identified through comprehensive research and strategic planning, and run by passionate volunteers and staff from a range of organizations and businesses.

Business Engagement

Supporting family-friendly workplaces and private sector champions of early education

Children Prepared to Succeed

Ensuring equitable access to quality programs

Systems Alignment

Working together to streamline processes for families to access services

Parent and Caregiver Support

Hearing and responding to specific needs of families in Pinellas County

Public Awareness

Building public will for prioritizing early childhood as a community value

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Community Partners

Thrive By Five engages hundreds of stakeholders countywide, including local influencers, social and human services providers, education/nonprofit leaders, government officials, and business and civic organizations. Together, we can better pinpoint opportunities for our resource-rich community to work more collaboratively and effectively to meet the needs of Pinellas County's children.