Cece Auton, an assistant teacher in the toddler room at the Riverhouse Children’s Center, was on a break at work when she received the news. She read the exciting email and immediately called her husband.


“I got the scholarship!” she announced. She then rattled off the long list of follow-up documents and deadlines needed to seal the deal. The financial award represented a vital bridge connecting Cece to her lifelong career goals in early childhood education.


Generously backed by the Buell Foundation for over 20 years, the Early Childhood Training Scholarship from the Durango Adult Education Center helps aspiring  educators springboard their careers by obtaining licensures, certifications, and advanced degrees. In 2020, the DAEC awarded $42,000 to recipients, including Cece. The scholarship funds enabled her to enroll in the four classes needed to obtain a lead teacher certification.


Cece recites her busy course schedule with glee, “I’m taking intro to early childhood education, and guidance strategies for the young child, plus infant and toddler theory and practice, and a class on the exceptional child, which is learning how to teach and be one-on-one with children who are on the spectrum or developing differently.”


Early childhood educators like Cece are essential when it comes to teaching young people supremely fundamental yet easily underestimated skills such as speaking and communicating, sharing, creative play, discovery, innovation, having a social meal, and resolving conflicts without hitting or biting others.


“I really like working with all kids, but I enjoy being with the little ones a lot!” Cece says. “I think they’re still just precious and they’re at that age where they’re learning to walk, and talk, and all these sorts of things while growing at the speed of light. I think it’s just so special to watch and be a part of it.”


Cece’s ties to early childhood education root back to her own childhood. Raised in a large family, she always loved cradling her younger cousins. She also spent most of her free time helping out in the preschool across the street where her mother worked and modeled excellence in early childhood education.


Cece recalls, “I was a nanny in high school for this one girl [in elementary school]. She was on the autism spectrum. As I think about her to this day…just being with her and helping her with homework and stuff brought me so much fulfillment. It’s just this warm feeling in my belly!”


Her innately loving and effusive nature make Cece a natural fit for the field. She finds working with children much easier than working with adults. “I’m never mad going into work and even when it’s a crazy day, I always feel really happy by the end of the day,” she explains. She goes on to say, “Even when they’re throwing food everywhere, I can’t get over how cute they are! There’s just millions of moments a day where I go: ohhh, that just melted my heart!


Although her path to working with children cemented early on, her journey to the certification classes was a tad rocky. “I am not very tech-savvy,” Cece notes, “and—oh my gosh!—computers make me so frustrated.”


She also had to contend with many forms, deadlines, and the numerous administrative processes required in registering for classes—all this while working full-time. To get questions answered and documents turned in before the 5pm closing hour for most offices, Cece sometimes relied on her husband. She also regularly tapped Danielle Beamer, DAEC Career Advisor.


“[Danielle] is very patient and understanding and kind,” Cece says. “She helped me with multiple things ten times in a row. She just totally walked me through the steps.”


According to Danielle, the Center’s career advisors play a large role in ensuring scholarship recipients successfully reach their goals. She says, “We help them navigate different systems, from finding the classes they need and where they’re offered to applying for additional financial aid.”


Serving Cece is crucial to the DAEC’s core mission to fill educational gaps even though she is not and has never been a student in the Center’s high school equivalency (HSE), English-as-a-second language (ESL), or adult basic education (ABE) programs.


As Danielle points out, “This is another way our organization serves the larger community.” She points to how the Center also acts as a regional test center for community members seeking certifications in just about any field spanning insurance to counseling and EMT to engineering.


The DAEC also partners with the Women’s Resource Center and the La Plata Family Centers Coalition to administer the WAGES program. Women Achieve Great Economic Security removes financial barriers blocking women entrepreneurs and professionals from economic self-sufficiency. To achieve this end, the nonprofit trio shares a grant from the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.


In 2020, WAGES dispersed some $23,000 to women professionals across this isolated, rural region. For some, the assistance covered the fees associated with getting a CDL (commercial driver’s license). For others, the funds covered the costs of renewing a business license or obtaining a land lease to launch a new farm business. And for many others, the funds kept their businesses afloat during a devastating pandemic.


For Cece, the DAEC’s help has simultaneously galvanized her passion for early childhood education and sparked clearer visions of her future. She says, “I can imagine working in an elementary school setting. I’m really into art and mental health. And I think people are starting to realize that it’s important to teach kids while they’re young that your physical health is just as important as your mental health.”


She is also chatting with community college advisers about the coursework needed to obtain an Associate’s Degree. When she envisions earning other advanced degrees, Cece dares to imagine herself one day opening her own childcare center. However, for now, she will focus on passing her intro classes.


“One thing at a time,” she laughs.


To learn more about ECT Scholarship opportunities or WAGES, contact Career Advisors Danielle Beamer in Durango (970-385-4354) or Mary Fuller in Cortez (970-564-7004).