Children First Executive Director retires

Children First Executive Director Karen Atkinson recently announced her retirement after 25 years of service. “While I am retiring from Children First, I am excited and looking forward to the next adventure in my journey,” said Atkinson.

In 1994, the Children First Founding Partners hired Atkinson to lead the way in developing a community-wide initiative to help all St. Louis Park youth thrive. Under Atkinson’s skillful leadership a platform was created for all adults to be involved in the healthy development of children by being trained as Children First (Asset) Champions. She pioneered annual community events including the Children First Ice Cream Social, Champions Breakfast, and Children First BBQ.

“Karen’s commitment to building assets for St. Louis Park students is a true reflection of the required action necessary to energize and enhance the spirit of the children in this community,” said St. Louis Park Public Schools Superintendent Astein Osei. “Education is the key to the success of our democracy and the work of Children First has ensured that our students will positively contribute to the world.”

Under the umbrella of Children First, several innovations have come to life utilizing the 40 Developmental Assets and the Children First philosophy: Central Clinic, Building Assets Reducing Risks (BARR) Program, Elementary Counseling, Recreation Center Pool, Basketball in the Park, Community Policing, Day One Back-to-School Celebration, and many more.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with Karen for the past two decades, as Medical Director of Central Clinic and on the Children First Executive Committee,” said Mary Wagner, M.D., Park Nicollet Creekside Clinic and Current Chair of Children First. “She has brought together people of all ages, from all walks of life, and equipped them to be positive forces in the lives of our young people.”

The entire St. Louis Park community will celebrate Karen Atkinson and Children First at the Wednesday, August 7 Children First BBQ from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., at the Oak Hill Park Central Picnic Shelter. All are invited to attend.

“I have had an amazing opportunity to work with the entire St. Louis Park community who fully embrace the Children First philosophy and support the work,” Atkinson said. “Through Children First, we have fundamentally improved this community for young people.”

The Children First Executive Committee will be naming an Interim Executive Director while they envision the future of Children First and search for a new Executive Director.

St. Louis Park City Manager Tom Harmening said, “I’ve been fortunate to work with Karen over the last 25 years.  Karen has been the glue that has kept asset building at the forefront in our community and been a wonderful resource for me as I raised my own children.  While Karen will be greatly missed, because of her leadership and stewardship, Children First is in good financial shape with a solid foundation of support that will help successfully take this initiative into the future.”