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Care from 'cradle to college'

Child development experts envision a new child-friendly neighborhood in one of the poorest sections of Medford.

With the help of federal dollars and strong community partners, a four-block area surrounding the Family Nurturing Center could be developed so that it provides children of struggling families a multifaceted support system that would start with prenatal care and continue throughout the life of the child, said Mary-Curtis Gramley, president of the nonprofit center.

"Our wish is to provide support from cradle to college," she said. "The goal is to make a thread that is woven throughout (a child's) growing experience."

Gramley and Susan Ladue, the center's new development director, "have a common vision of what our little corner of west Medford could be," Gramley said.

"We were looking around and we thought our neighborhood might be a good place for a (zone)," Gramley said. "We know that our children, and their families, could benefit from a variety of related supports."

Coordinating services with family care professionals, local schools and other community groups creates a nurturing network that children cannot fall through, Gramley said.

"We want to help families continue to build on the foundation they received at the Family Nurturing Center," she said. The center provides a relief nursery for families in crisis, as well as therapeutic early childhood education and parent education and support.

The area under discussion surrounds the center's Oakdale campus and extends from Fourth to Sixth streets and from Oakdale Avenue to Ivy Street. The boundaries could be expanded over time, said Ladue.

"For example, the YMCA has indicated interest," Ladue said. "Promise Neighborhoods are intended to grow."

Gramley said the federal government is taking to heart lessons learned from the success of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone in New York City. The HCZ project features wrap-around care, ongoing educational goals and strong parental support. What began as a one-block pilot in the 1990s now covers 100 blocks and will serve about 10,000 children by 2011.

More than 300 communities from 48 states and the District of Columbia submitted applications for Promise Neighborhoods planning grants in 2010. In September the U.S. Department of Education awarded 21 nonprofit organizations and education centers up to $500,000 to create plans to provide services that improve the educational achievement and healthy development of children, said Ladue.

The Family Nurturing Center and its partners plan to submit a grant request in hopes of winning a portion of the $210 million President Barack Obama has budgeted for Promise Neighborhood projects in 2011, Ladue said.

"Kids who go to (HCZ) schools consistently outperform their peers on a national basis," Ladue said.

Educators play key roles in helping children rise out of poverty and become productive citizens in their adult life, Ladue said.

Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long recently took a tour of the Family Nurturing Center and walked the surrounding neighborhood with Gramley and Ladue.

"They invited me to take a look," Long said. "It's in the heart of our city and of our school district."

Medford schools serve 40 percent of the school-aged children in Jackson County. And Jackson Elementary School, located not far from the Family Nurturing Center, has one of the highest poverty levels in the district. It also has the most "higher-needs families," he said.

"It certainly sounds like it has some promise," Long said of the neighborhood project. "In difficult times, it's good to see people come together, create a focal point and pursue something positive."

Reach Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.