Meet our team

Maria Soter
Founder and CEO RBT/CCW/SSW

Maria Soter has immersed herself in the world of Early Childhood for over 25 years. At the inception of Salt Lake City’s first Preschool for Homeless children in 1998 to more recently, creating the Coaching Model and program for Head Start. Maria has always had a passion to serve children and their families especially where a need is unmet.

Her vision for The Sammy Center became a reality in 2018 when she heard the CEO of a local program speak on behalf of the Early Childhood mental health crisis that was on an uprising. She has made a commitment to herself, the community and the children of Salt Lake City to give them an added level of support through The Sammy Center.
Tracy Halverson

Tracy has been in the child care field for over thirty years. As an owner, operating her own family child care business for over sixteen years, and a Head Start and private school teacher for roughly eleven years.
Tracy has a deep passion for the Early Childhood Field, and is a strong advocate for children. Her vision is to always take children on adventures where they can investigate new ideas and form their own thoughts and ideas through hands-on and open-ended learning experiences. She believes every child is unique and learns at their own individual time, and everyone deserves to learn through their own learning style with family as an essential part of learning. Together we will create opportunities to create a win so that the child and family will achieve their goals and dreams. Tracy is a mother of four adult children and six grandchildren.
Alicia Christ

Alicia discovered her passion for working with young children 10 years ago. Her dedication and commitment shines through with each conversation she has with preschool age children and only continues to grow. With her initial education and training beginning with toddlers she has found a deep commitment to work with preschool age children and help them find support with social emotional skills and life long success.

Taylor Claypool

Taylor has had a natural affinity for child care and education from a young age. From being a private nanny working with kids of all ages and varying needs and abilities to working in childcare facilities and now The Sammy Center. Her passion for speaking for young children who cannot advocate for themselves seeps into the woodwork of who she is at the core. She is in the process of getting her CDA and plans to continue her education post-graduation in child psychology and education. Her eagerness to help little minds heal from trauma and change our world is very apparent. Taylor’s optimistic outlook and love for all things healing and children is a great addition to The Sammy Center. 
Gena Khajavi
Event Coordinator

Gena’s event career began while living in Costa Rica running the annual gala for a non-profit school called the NatureKids Foundation.
In 2013 she moved back to Utah and spent five years with Cactus and Tropicals working floral design and large scale events like Saviour the Summit, Sundance Film Festival, and Artist at the Table. In 2018 she relocated to London where she graduated from The Event Academy of London, earning honorary recognition for creativity in large scale events.
Mary Ogan
Parent Trainer

I have been passionate about children for as long as I can remember.  I joined the Early childhood profession about 50 years ago and over the years have had the pleasure of working with children as a classroom teacher and program administrator.  Most recently I have been working as a teacher educator, mentor and Child Care Advocate.  I am so excited to work with the Sammy Center in helping the Center reach its goals.
Sky Lowe
Rita Mangum

I began my career in social work facilitating parenting classes for at-risk communities in the greater Salt Lake and Park City area.  Research has shown that strong parent-child bonding is one of the most important protective factors for decreasing delinquency, substance abuse, child abuse, and negative peer influences on children.  Protective factors work to increase safety, emotional well-being, build strong family relationships, and promote healthy social connections.  I have been facilitating and teaching positive parenting practices for over 25 years.  I am passionate about relationships, especially those between parents and children. One of the best ways to build resiliency, in both yourself and your child(ren), is to focus on the 4 Pillars of Wellness which include Health, Home, Community, and Purpose.   I’m looking forward to sharing ways to decrease stress, identify emotions, make healthy connections with your child(ren), and to build strong families.  My wellness classes will explore these pillars and provide you with knowledge, new skills, home practice exercises, and time to talk with other parents about their experiences with parenting and self-care.

Blithe Cravens
Attorney for D.A.’s office, Juvenile Branch

Blithe Cravens professional career and experience are what drew her to become involved in The Sammy Center and serve on the board. Blithe’s background in Criminal Justice dates back to 1998. Since 2018 she has worked for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, as Senior Deputy District Attorney, Supervisor Family and Sexual Violence Unit.

She once shared that if she can just keep one child out of the system, she would feel like she has done a good thing. Difficult as it is to have the knowledge, and experience of what Blithe sees day-to-day, her commitment to making a difference and serving our community is a gift.
Paul Mueller
Nature Area Project Manager “Volunteer”

Paul has worked as an educator over the last 10 years. He has had a variety of roles educating young children, including EcoGarden Steward at TreeUtah, a Ski Instructor at Deer Valley and over 7 years teaching and coaching preschoolers at Head Start. He now coaches’ programs across the state to become high quality preschool programs in his current position at The Children’s Center. He has a passion for nature education realizing the exponential impacts nature has on a young