Meet Our Staff
Kim Karus has been the director of First Step Preschool since Fall of 2014.
Kim has her B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Youth Ministry and Social Science) from Nyack College, Nyack, NY. She is also the director of children’s ministries at Hope Church. When she is not working at First Step or the church, she is enjoying time with her husband Paul and daughters Kaylee and Mackenzie. Kim is from Scranton, PA, but now resides in Wilton with her family.
In her free time, Kim volunteers with the church Middle School and High School Youth Groups. She also enjoys long walks in nature, ice skating, skiing, concerts, going to the movies with her family and drinking coffee (loves Dunkin) with her friends.
Bengchoo Erickson joined First Step as an office assistant. As a strong follower of Christ and an advocate for education, she counts it a blessing to work with a team of people who are dedicated to the development of children as an expression of their Christian faith.
Bengchoo earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Material Science and Engineering and has accumulated more than a decade of work experience in her field. She is married with two sons and her family moved from Singapore to Tokyo and now resides in Connecticut since 2004.
Bengchoo and her family attend Hope Church and they have been actively involved in various ministries in church. She and her husband are part of a team teaching Sunday school to the 4th and 5th graders. When not working, Bengchoo enjoys walking with friends, playing Pickleball, learning new things and spending time with family and friends.
2’s Head Teacher
Mary Hoermann, is the head 2’s teacher at First Step. She joined the first step family in 2014. Mary graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a B.S. in Business Administration and then did graduate course work in counseling.
Mary grew up in Norwalk, CT. After college she lived in Westport for 10 years before moving to Wilton in 2005 when she married, husband Joe. They have a daughter Grace (2007) who attends Wilton public schools. She also has 3 step sons, Joe (1988) and George (1990) who live in Boston and Eddie (1996) who lives at home with them. They have a black lab, 2 Guinea pigs and a beta fish.
Mary loves being a mom and because of this, she slowly started getting involved with various activities in town. She was on the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) steering Committee at Hope Church for 2 years. Mary has also been a faithful volunteered for Kids Camp at Hope Church since 2011. She has also taught Sunday school since 2011, been a Girl Scout leader since 2011, was a Girls Scout Service Unit Organizer for 2 years and both President and Treasurer of the Wilton Mom’s Club as well as many other volunteer/service positions.
Mary’s relationship with First Step Preschool started in 2009 when her daughter Grace attended the 2’s class. She fell in love with the school and its small nurturing environment. Mary considers herself blessed to be a part of the staff at First Step.
Tae Bellock joined First Step as an assistant teacher in the 2’s class in September 2018.
She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Food Science and Technology and her Master’s of Science Degree in Food Biotechnology in South Korea then moved to the United States. She has been actively involved in the Children’s Ministries at Hope Church and has been teaching different age groups during Sunday services. Tae has also been a volunteer crew leader for Hope Church’s VBS program and co-coordinated the preschool Kidz Christmas camp in the past.
She lives in Norwalk with her husband BJ and her four children, Madison, William, Harding and Emma. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, baking, growing vegetables and spending time with her family and friends.
3’s Head Teacher
Janet Swenson is the Lead Teacher in the 3’s class.
She has been with First Step since 2009, and previously she worked with different age groups. Janet has a BA in Computer Science as well as her Child Development Associate Credential (CDA) a nationally recognized credential in the field of Early Childhood Education. She lives in Norwalk with husband Scott and their two children Rachael and Erik. Janet attends Hope Church and has been very active in the children’s ministry program. She also enjoys spending time traveling with her family, reading, scrapbooking and various other crafts.
Kathy started at First step in 2009.
“I love to teach first and foremost because I honestly love children, especially our 3 year olds. I also love that I can be my playful and silly self while educating them in a way that they can enjoy learning. It gives me pleasure to see them grow and respond with eyes wide open and to see them ‘just get it’ when they learn something new is amazing!”
Kathy lives in Stamford with her husband Alex. She has 3 children, AJ, Kelly and Steven and also 1 granddaughter, Lilah. Born in 2016 and another one on the way in late November 2017, a boy! She also has 2 “furbabies”, Ryder and Sawyer, Mini Australian Shepherds.
Kathy has a passion for music and loves to sing. Disney World is her favorite place to visit. She also loves all Disney movies! She enjoys taking care of their swan family, Sammy and Serena that live on their pond. In Kathy’s free time she loves taking pictures, cooking, baking, and spending time with her family. She also enjoys getting away to her 2nd home in Vt.
4’s Head Teacher
Heather Dobson joined First Step in September 2017.
She previously taught Kindergarten for seven years at the Stanwich School in Greenwich. Heather has a B.S. degree from the University of Connecticut in Communication Sciences and earned her Master’s degree from Manhattanville College in Elementary and Special Education. She lives in Wilton with her husband and 3 children. When not teaching, you can find Heather on the soccer, lacrosse and basketball sidelines cheering on her children and their teammates, volunteering at the schools, and exercising.
Clarissa Zapata is the Assistant Teacher in the 4’s class.
She graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL with a B.S. in Communication Studies. During college, Clarissa studied Spanish and spent a year living in Sevilla, Spain. She is excited to introduce Spanish to the 4’s curriculum. Before joining First Step in 2017, Clarissa worked for many years in NYC at large advertising agencies, as well as for a publishing company which focused primarily on the home, health, and family. Outside of work, Clarissa enjoys downhill skiing, running, and spending time with family and friends. Clarissa lives in Westport with her husband Bob, her daughter Catalina, and her very energetic bird-dog, Toby.
Vita Silina joined the staff at First Step in Fall of 2017 as a floater.
She is from Latvia and has been living in the United States since 2002. Vita has her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Cēsīs College of Nursing. Vita has a lot of experience, working with children. She has been a nanny, she is the mother of three children and, she is also a Sunday School teacher, Kids Camp Leader and Midweek Program volunteer all at Hope Church.
Vita is married and has three children. Her and her family have been living in Wilton since 2004.
In her free time Vita enjoys hiking, gardening and cooking. Vita feels that children are gifts from God and believes that every child needs a different approach in learning and exploring the world around them. She feels blessed and also excited to be a part of the First Step.