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Coming next year: United Way brings child care, health services to southeast South Bend
South Bend Tribune - 2/21/2021
Feb. 21—SOUTH BEND — The United Way of St. Joseph County hopes to break ground this spring on the Southeast Neighborhood Center that would fill a vacant block at Dubail and Fellows streets, at least half of which would provide high-quality child care for up to 112 kids.
As announced two years ago, it aims to reach low-income and under-served residents, including space for health services and youth and senior programs, too.
The fundraising campaign for the center has raised almost 93% of the $4.2 million that's needed — an amount that could fluctuate with the costs of materials during the pandemic, said Lauren Smyth, the United Way's vice president of advancement.
Much of that so far is coming from grants and foundations. A $100,000 gift from the AEP Foundation was among the most recent contributions. Now the charity is turning to the public for the remaining $400,000 to $500,000, though Smyth said none of the money for building the center would come from the United Way's annual campaign to support local programs.
"We hope that it becomes part of us building a solid, good neighborhood for the working class," said Conrad Damian, president of the Southeast Organized Area Residents.
He said the United Way was good about listening to neighbors' feedback, including the need for evening and weekend hours for health care. Neighbors, he said, had also asked for an informal space for seniors to read the paper, have coffee and join exercise classes, plus programs for middle and high school students.
Construction bids will go out in late March, and the building could be finished in the middle of 2022, she said. The United Way had originally hoped to break ground last fall and open at the end of 2021. But then the pandemic hit, and the agency quickly pivoted to fund-raising for COVID relief aid instead.
It would fill at least six vacant lots, two of which came from the city. The other lots came from Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church and from the nonprofit that its pastor, Rickardo Taylor, had started, 466 Works, which has been building homes in nearby blocks to renew the neighborhood. 466 Works has built six homes that are now occupied, with two more that should be finished in two months and five more to build at Dayton and Carroll streets this year, said board vice president Sy Booker.
Mount Carmel had invested $1.7 million in a new church more than six years ago, Booker said. Just three blocks from the future center, Taylor added that people can "see the blessings of God's house that flows out to the neighborhood."
That also comes as the city plans to rebuild Dubail Street with new curbs, sidewalks, bike lanes and landscaping.
Architects are designing the exterior to fit in with the neighborhood and avoid a commercial look, Smyth said. It will be brightly lit, partly for security during night hours, but it also would bring in lots of natural light to aid with "trauma-informed care," which is sensitive to a person's past traumas.
The building, which would include room for a clinic and a multipurpose room, will fill the space up to the sidewalk and will include a playground in a courtyard.
Rather than bring in an existing child care center, Smyth said the United Way would start its own. From the start, the United Way wanted the child care to reach a Level 4 on the Indiana's Paths to QUALITY child care rating system, which would mean opening at Level 3 and taking a year or more to secure accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
"If we're going to put our name on the building, we're going to make sure that we own that quality," Smyth said.
The neighborhood sits in what's called a "child care desert," lacking enough access to child care. Smyth said that has grown worse in recent years as the number of nearby providers has declined, especially during the pandemic as families kept their kids home and providers couldn't afford to stay open.
About 80% of students would qualify for free or reduced rates, while 20% would pay a market rate, she said.
The United Way expects the child care center to be financially self supporting after two years, relying on state and federal reimbursements. For example, Smyth said the federal Head Start program would support a portion of the expenses for infants and toddlers, without subtracting seats for children at other local Head Start programs. The local United Way's CEO, Laura Jensen, had previously run El Campito Child Development Center in South Bend.
The United Way is still talking with local agencies that could bring in health services and youth and senior programs.
The Warsaw-based Bowen Center, which provide mental health care, hopes to set up some administrative office space in the center where, if someone needed help, they could talk with a staff member about setting up an appointment. But clinical workers would continue to meet clients in their homes, virtually or community places where they feel comfortable, said Janice Nichols, the regional director for five counties including St. Joseph.
Smyth said the locally operated Quality Care Pharmacy, which also serves clients at agencies like the YWCA and AIDS Ministries, hopes to open a pharmacy at the center stocked with non-narcotic prescriptions.
HealthLinc, which has a health clinic with doctors just a few blocks away from the future center, is still exploring how it may have a presence in the center. CEO Beth Wrobel said she and United Way officials haven't discussed options since August, but she brainstorms: Should it offer a telehealth booth? Or help to sign up families for state programs? And how could it streamline care for kids in child care or their parents so the parents don't have to miss work?
While it doesn't have a formal agreement yet, Wrobel said, "We want to be supportive. We think it's a great project."
She recalls how, as a nonprofit, HealthLinc started in 1996 in a similar way in Valparaiso, with a child care center for the underserved, plus a small clinic. HealthLinc has since grown to 11 clinics, two school-based telehealth options and a mobile dental clinic.
For more information or to donate to the center's construction, visit uwsjc.org/community-impact/southeast-neighborhood-center.
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