A dilapidated house in Medford's Liberty Park neighborhood has an appointment with a bulldozer. But demolishing it will further clear the path for creating an education center that will link family services offered by Kids Unlimited, OnTrack Inc. and Family Nurturing Center, project leaders say.
"We really have to bulldoze the house to free up the plot," said Kids Unlimited Executive Director Tom Cole.
Kids Unlimited last April secured a community development grant for $133,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the city of Medford to purchase a building at 533 Austin St., adjacent to the current Kids Unlimited site.
But the "Project Hope" property, which was in foreclosure, ultimately ended up being donated to the cause through Bank of America's community revitalization program, Cole said, adding the federal funds now can be used to help build the educational center.
"We're working on the conceptual vision with the architects and engineers," Cole said.
Cole, OnTrack Director Rita Sullivan and Mary-Curtis Gramley of the Family Nurturing Center have been talking about the need for a coordinated resource center in Medford's poorest neighborhood for more than two years, he said.
The project leaders have spent the past two years studying with Purpose Built Communities, an organization that revitalized a poverty-stricken Atlanta neighborhood, and now teaches community organizations how to build partnerships that help communities trapped in a cycle of poverty.
"We want this project to be oriented in the best way possible," Cole said.
Cole gave the example of a single mother who has two children, age 7 and 3. The father, who currently may not be in the home because of substance abuse issues, can receive help from OnTrack. The 7-year-old may receive services at Kids Unlimited. And the 3-year-old can be helped by the Family Nurturing Center, Cole said.
"The problem right now is we're all fragmented. We're operating in silos," he said. "This way we can each leverage different services and treat the family holistically."
Parents who are struggling with generational parenting issues, poverty or drug or alcohol abuse need time and support to work out their issues — and so do their children, Sullivan said in April, adding parents who are struggling with addiction or housing issues and whose children are currently in state custody will benefit from a center that offers support and education for themselves and their children.
Children in families who are facing such struggles often fall behind in school and never get caught up. The earlier an at-risk child gets supportive care, the better the potential outcome. And the key is to get parents invested in the benefits of ensuring their children get a quality education, Cole said.
The Family Nurturing Center will continue to provide its services as a respite and therapeutic nursery. But a multifaceted center would offer even more help to parents who are struggling to get their lives on track by offering a full-day, high-quality, low-cost or no-cost day care for high-risk families, he said.
Gramley said children who miss out on fundamental building blocks of nurturing, much less education, struggle in public schools — particularly if their parents haven't themselves learned the value of education or are unsure of how to advocate for their child, she said.
Generations of families have had their children participate in Kids Unlimited over the past decade and longer. Some of those children are getting into the top colleges and universities in the nation, Cole said.
Sharing physical space with the other two organizations will help each provide services corroboratively, and create a more encompassing network of support for struggling families living in economically challenged neighborhoods.
"We've had some meetings with Liberty Park folks," Cole said. "I think that the residents are in favor of the project because it provides enhancements to their neighborhood, and for their children."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.