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Board of Directors 

Donna Roberts, MBA 

Donna Thornton- Roberts’s passion and devotion to early educators has propelled her into becoming a national treasure as a champion for those dedicated to teaching and caring for young children for the last 30 years.  Since 1989, she has crisscrossed the country providing thousands of professional development trainings to audiences with her inspirational messages in practical application from her first-hand experiences in childcare. 

She’s an author, business owner, and executive coach devoted to increasing the quality of early childhood programs by investing in the individuals who directly influence and teach young children.  Donna holds a BS in Management of Human Resources, a Master’s in Business Administration and anticipates completing her Doctorate in Leadership next year. 

She’s the founder and president emeritus of the Association of Early Learning Leaders and currently serves as the president of Child Development Education Alliance, Inc - an association serving over 500 faith based programs.  Donna has appeared on CBS News, Sirius Radio, and Family Net TV.  She has a passionate zeal to train-up the next generation of influencers in early care education!

Gabriel Smith
Vice President

Gabriel F. Smith (Gabe) has worked with state, national and international early childhood and school-age organizations/programs for over 15 years. He is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he received a BS and MS in Workforce Education and Development. Gabe is currently working on obtaining his PhD in Business Administration.

After serving in the United States Marine Corps and graduation, Gabe launched his career in Pensacola. This is where he began to specialize in designing and developing early childhood and school-age programs. Gabe has created national and state trainings programs that have educated thousands of early childhood and school-age professionals. That eventually led to positions such as senior instructional designer, project manager, director of business operations, CDEA Vice President and partnerships with over 200 Early Childhood organizations. It was in this capacity that he cultivated partnerships with city, state, and national organizations. Soon afterwards, his expanding expertise in partnerships and program development led to partnerships with agencies that provided services in Europe, Asia, and Australia.  

Shari Lumberson

Shari has been in the Early Childhood field over 35 years. Her career in the EC field started when she opened her first school in the church her and her husband started to provide a Professional Faith-Base school for families in their community. Over the years she has opened 6 schools in churches and also consulted with churches to open schools or improve their program. Shari’s philosophy is that Faith-Base schools are to be the most professional, high standard schools in the community and to be a light to families and teachers so they see the importance of faith in their lives. Shari also was VP of community relations for Early Childhood Resources where she served on several collaborative committees. She started Even Start programs in 2 counties. Also she served as VP for Early Learning Coalition for Polk County. For the past 10 years Shari has been a School Business Consultant for Primrose Schools Franchising Company. She oversees the state of Florida. 

Susan Beckwith

Susan Beckwith is a business professional with fifteen years of experience in providing business management and operational leadership.  She is a principal and President of Grow Right, a division of R2R, LLC.  Susan provides overall leadership of the division supporting Grow Right in fiscal and strategic planning, human resources including the management of the benefit packages, and technology initiatives associated with day care applications.  She was co-founder of Open Roads Consulting, Inc.  In her role at Open Roads, she provided overall management of the communication and human resource departments.  Susan was the founder and President of Apple Tree learning Center, a 21 year old, non-profit company that provides early learning solutions in conjunction with local church facilities.  

Mecca Johnson
Board Member At Large

Mecca Johnson is the founder of My Joy Speaks, LLC, a platform for “getting to the root of things” through humor, self-deprecation, and a fierce love and appreciation for authenticity in all of its forms. Her clients have reflected on time with Mecca as life-changing. Her commitment to providing tools to support individual improvement have resulted in improving the lives, families, and organizational cultures impacted by those she supports through speaking, training, consulting, and coaching.  Her experience includes 30+ years in the field of Early Childhood Education with a particular expertise in Leadership within a franchise culture.  Her message and the tools she provides transfer seamlessly to any industry.  

Julia Hendry 
Board Member At Large

Julia Hendry has served in Christian Early Education and Preschool Ministries for over 40 years.  Her experiences as both a classroom teacher and Program Director have allowed her to touch the lives of thousands of children with a focus of Spiritual Development and learning through PLAY! As a Leader in the Faith-Based Early Education arena, she brings a strong foundation for Kingdom Education.  

Julia provides training and consulting services to Faith-Based Ministries and Churches throughout the U.S. and is a popular conference speaker and presenter for churches, conferences, and conventions.  She is currently a Master Trainer for the WEE Learn Curriculum,  an ACSI Early Education Accreditation Validator, and serves as a Faith-based Early Childhood Consultant and Trainer.  Julia's passion is equipping early educators, as well as encouraging them to embrace their call to serve and love young children with Biblical Excellence.  Her life motto is “Honoring Christ, Honoring Children!”

CDEA, dba Association of Christian Early Educators • P.O. Box 14012 • Jacksonville, FL 32238 • (904)573-8831
CDEA is a not-for-profit corporation under IRS Code 501c3. As such, all contributions are fully tax deductible.