SAN JOSE, CA, January 21,2021 – The FIRST 5 Santa Clara County Commission announced today that FIRST 5’s long-time Chief Executive Officer Jolene Smith will retire from her position this year. The Commission will conduct an extensive search for a successor beginning this spring. 

“The FIRST 5 Commission salutes the work of our long time CEO Jolene Smith and applauds her almost two decades of leadership in the early childhood arena,” commented Santa Clara County Supervisor and Chairperson of the FIRST 5 Commission Susan Ellenberg. “Her spirit, energy and passion for FIRST 5 has enabled a strong organization to flourish. She has set the standard of what success looks like and the Commission has quite the task in filling the role from which she will retire. We will focus on a smooth and thoughtful transition of CEO leadership and it is our priority to ensure that FIRST 5 Santa Clara County continues to be a leading, innovative, creative, and collaborative organization.”

Smith, who joined FIRST 5 in 2000, and became CEO in 2005, has been a driving force in transforming FIRST 5 into one of the most innovative organizations serving young children and their families in our community. During her tenure, FIRST 5 has earned a stellar reputation for its commitment and partnerships to develop critical programs that support families with children ages 0-5. 

Smith’s notable accomplishments are too numerous to fully catalog. She ensured FIRST 5 was a lead $10 million funder in creating the children’s health initiative resulting in universal health access for all children in Santa Clara County. Her leadership launched the Reach Out and Read program in 2004 with Valley Medical Center, bringing 40,000 books each year to children at well-being medical appointments. She brought us Potter the Otter, the furry FIRST 5 mascot who teaches children healthy living lessons, such as eating vegetables and drinking enough water, through a series of books, videos, and other storytelling multimedia.  Smith also established programs with the County Behavioral Health Department that created a system of care and the KidConnection Program. FIRST 5 launched Family Resource Centers in 26 locations countywide to bring parenting support and services into neighborhoods. She was instrumental in bringing Educare, the highest quality early learning center in the nation, to the Franklin-McKinley neighborhood in San Jose. She has been a lead convener with the Santa Clara County Office of Education for Quality Matters, a training program for Family Home Care Centers and early learning centers. Most recently, Smith, along with community partners, developed a diaper and essential supplies program for low-income families during the pandemic.

“I am grateful to have spent 20 years with this great organization, and deeply honored to have had the opportunity to lead it for the last fifteen. Being CEO of FIRST 5 has been the singular best experience in my professional life and has allowed me the opportunity to work with incredible partners to shape quality early learning in Santa Clara County,” said Smith. “FIRST 5’s compelling mission to support the healthy development of children, from prenatal through age 5, and to enrich the lives of their families and communities, has motivated me every day. I thank the FIRST 5 Commission for allowing me the privilege to serve this extraordinary organization, and all the staff and partner organizations who believed in our work and joined FIRST 5 in bringing a multitude of early learning programs to our community.” 

ABOUT JOLENE SMITH

Jolene Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of FIRST 5 Santa Clara County.  

Since the passage of Proposition 10 in 1998, Jolene Smith has been instrumental in establishing FIRST 5 as an organization that supports the healthy development of children prenatal through age 5 and enriches the lives of their families and communities throughout Santa Clara County.  As the leader of the Early Childhood Development Collaborative in 1999, Smith was responsible for developing the original county strategic plan that led to the creation of FIRST 5.  In 2000, she served as the Director of Program Development, worked her way up to Deputy Director, and became Chief Executive Officer in January 2005. 

During her tenure as CEO, FIRST 5 has been recognized for its leadership in ensuring that the healthy development of our youngest children is viewed as a high priority in the County.  Through her efforts, Smith has worked to engage and unite the community through strategic partnerships and collaborations to tackle challenging issues such as children’s health insurance, early literacy, high quality early education, screening and assessment for developmental delays, model court programs, and a cross-disciplinary, cross-sector community of learning.  Under her leadership, FIRST 5 has worked closely with policymakers and elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels to create the necessary change in our laws and in our politics to improve the lives of the people in the community. 

Jolene’s thirty years of public service are based around her commitment and dedication to help people in need.  As FIRST 5’s leader, and before that as a high school youth counselor, a national trainer, and a Program Manager with the Santa Clara County Health and Hospital System and Social Services Agency, Smith has long used her expertise in strategic planning, program development, and training and consultation, to ensure that children, youth, and their families receive the vital social services they need. 

TRIBUTES TO JOLENE SMITH

from Susan Ellenberg, Santa Clara County Supervisor and Chairperson

Jolene’s spirit, energy and passion for FIRST 5 has enabled a strong organization to flourish. She has set the standard of what success looks like and the Commission has quite the task in filling the role from which she will retire.

from Blanca Alvarado, Former Santa Clara County Supervisor

Jolene Smith has been on an indefatigable mission to safeguard and advance the lives of children and families in Santa Clara County and in the State of California. She will be cherished for her dedication and persistence in caring and taking care of our children.

from Dr. Hilaria Bauer, Ph.D. Superintendent Alum Rock Union School District

Jolene Smith is like our local Mother Teresa. Her passion, commitment, and actions always serve the poorest of the poor amongst us. Jolene does the hard work with great love. 

from Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, Ph.D. County Superintendent of Schools

Jolene Smith has been a strong leader and advocate for children. The impact of her work has impacted many generations of children and their families.

from Fred Ferrer, CEO of Child Advocates Silicon Valley

Jolene Smith is a centrifugal force in our local early childhood community. She is dynamic, holistic
with a razor sharp focus on strengthening the lives of young children.”

from Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, Executive Director SOMOS Mayfair

It has been an honor to work alongside Jolene Smith and learn from her, all while building community-led family resource centers that spur endless ripple effects across communities and over generations.

from Kathleen King, CEO Healthier Kids Foundation and VP Santa Clara County Board of Education

Jolene is a visionary. She is an advocate without an enemy and a leader that we want to follow.

from Hon. Katherine Lucero, Santa Clara County Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Division

Jolene has devoted her life’s work to be an advocate for the full spectrum of children’s healthcare, well-being, early education, family strengthening, and the implementation of evidence based practices. She has changed the trajectory of the lives of thousands of children in our community for the better.

from Rene G. Santiago, Director, County of Santa Clara Health System

Jolene Smith brought people together with the single purpose of improving the health and wellbeing of all children, especially the most vulnerable. Her collaborative leadership and passion for children and families in our county will always define her time as FIRST 5’s CEO.  

from Chris Wilder, CEO VMC Foundation

Jolene has brought more than urgency and passion to her work helping our Valley’s children. She’s brought true joy.

from Walter Wilson, Community Activist

Jolene has taken FIRST 5 to the African/African-Ancestry Community in Santa Clara County. FIRST 5 assisted in building services and capacity to our children and families of our African centered organizationsThis lady though small in stature leaves big shoes to fill.  

from Ken Yeager, Former Santa Clara County Supervisor

Jolene Smith is a true visionary. She understood all the elements that children need for success in life. Like a force of nature, she brought everyone along. We all owe her a great deal of gratitude in elevating quality early learning in Santa Clara County.