Black Forest Community Church and First Step Preschool share a long history and a strong connection. When the church was built in 1942, members established an open-door policy, inviting local groups to use their facilities. Over the years, their community focus broadened to hosting concerts, participating in festivals and parades, and organizing the annual Halloween celebration at La Foret Conference and Retreat Center. Kay Stricklan learned of that reputation shortly after moving to Black Forest in 1982. As she began researching a good location for the preschool she hoped to open, it seemed only natural to approach Black Forest Community Church about renting space. At that time, their landmark log building included a basement extension along the south side, which would be perfect as a classroom. Stricklan got busy applying for state licenses, formulating all the required policies and procedures, and working out a rental agreement with the church. Choosing the name “First Step” was easy because, as a Speech-Language Pathologist and mother of two, she knew that the type of learning environment young children encounter in their initial school experience has a lasting impact on their future educational path. As a result, the school’s curriculum focus was on playful exploration of the natural world, development of pre-academic language concepts, and a variety of music and movement activities. Stricklan had the preschool’s logo designed to reflect its special location in the heart of Black Forest.
First Step Preschool opened its doors in January 1984, with a class of just six students. As its reputation for excellence spread, enrollment grew to more than 60. In 1991, Stricklan made the decision to return to her former career and to donate the preschool to Black Forest Community Church. It immediately gained congregational support as an important part of the Missions program. During the ensuing years, church members have volunteered their help with various preschool projects, including playground improvements, general maintenance, and fundraisers. When Morast Hall (the third building in the Black Forest Community Church complex) was constructed in 1996, the entire lower floor became preschool space. This August, First Step Preschool will begin its 32rd school year, continuing its strong tradition of offering developmentally appropriate learning opportunities for 3-to-5 year olds. Those lucky children and their families are sure to make many lasting memories and friendships as they share in this little piece of Black Forest history.