College plans to close Family Education Center
Grant loss leads to uncertain future
— Citing the loss of a roughly $100,000 grant, Cecil College has announced plans to close down the Family Education Center in Hollingsworth Manor on Sept. 30.
The center, which the college has operated in partnership with the Maryland Family Network (MFN) for more than 25 years, current-
ly serves more than 70 kids between the ages of 6 weeks and 5 years old. The college relies mainly on grants to fund the center’s services, which include preschool and pre-K classes as well as parenting and GED classes.
More than 25 of those parents gathered at the center Monday night as Cecil College President Mary Way Bolt delivered the news about the closing, just a few days after she’d told the center’s staff.
Standing in the hallway after the announcement, Crystal Sammons wiped away tears with one hand, the other still clutching her latest parenting program certificate.
The mother of two had just picked up her certificate for the 12-week course that night and had recently started a GED class at the center as well. But beyond the classes, it’s the support system the center has given her that make Sammons tear up when she thinks about it closing.
“This place gave me my
confidence back,” she said. “It made me want to be a better person, a better parent.”
The college’s decision to close the center came about because of the loss of a $100,000 grant from the Judy Center that, in years past, had been used to fund the three-year-old classroom. But this year, the Judy Center changed the grant so it can no longer be used for this purpose, leaving the center without a funding source for that part of its operation.
Regardless of whether the funding can be found to make up the deficit, Bolt said the college feels the time has come to end its partnership with MFN to run the center. Cecil Col- lege is the only community college in the state that operates such a center and the college originally got involved with the center because no one else “stepped up to the plate,” she said.
As the center’s purpose and vision has changed over the past 25 years, it’s gotten further and further away from the college’s mission, and Bolt said the college hopes a new provider that specializes in early education will take over its role. That coupled with the yearto-year financial uncertainty has made it harder to run the center, she added.
“We’ve operated this center for many years and we really feel that we’ve helped strengthen families over the years,” Bolt said. “But that’s not really our core strength of what we do as a community college.”
Going forward, Bolt said the college will help parents look at other options and plans to provide updates on the status of the center every Friday starting next week.
For its part, the MFN is also working to either keep the college as the center’s main provider or find another provider before the September deadline. Margaret Williams, MFN director, said she knew the college had been having funding issues during the last several months, but was disappointed to hear that the college planned to end the partnership.
“This is one-of-a-kind in the county and we know families depend on this service,” she said. “We are determined that this will continue either with the college or with another partner.”
If the MFN doesn’t find another partner for the center by the September deadline, Cecil College’s decision to pull out of the partnership would further complicate the already complex network of organizations and funding that allows the center to provide its services.
The center’s programs, its staff, even the building it occupies, are the result of a tangled web of federal, state and grant funding spread out among three different organizations: Cecil College, the Maryland Family Network and the Maryland Rural Development Corporation.
Cecil College is one of 26 organizations throughout Maryland that the MFN partners with to run family support centers. MFN receives federal and state funding for various early childhood programs and subcontracts those funds to the college, which runs the programs and hires the staff. But the college also gets its own funding from community partners, such as the Judy Center, to run other programs at the center, Williams said.
The college’s name is also on the lease with the town of Elkton for the center’s property. That $1 a year symbolic lease was signed in 2002 and ends in 2017, Elkton Mayor Rob Alt said.
The final piece of the center belongs to the Maryland Rural Development Corporation, which leases space in the center for its Head Start program. MRDC runs the program and hires its own staff, using funding its receives from federal grants.
If Cecil College does close the center in September, it would leave two federallyfunded programs — MFN’s Early Head Start program, which helps pregnant women, infant and toddlers from low-income families, and MRDC’s Head Start program, which promotes school readiness for children from birth to age 5 — without a location.
Though MRDC runs two other Head Start programs in the county, the Early Head Start program at the Family Education Center is the only such program in the county.
Florence Crain, who lives in the Hollingsworth Manor neighborhood and has a 2-year-old son, is working on getting her GED through the Early Head Start program and said she can’t imagine the center closing.
She just passed the first part of her GED test and said she’s hopeful the center will still be around so she can earn her degree. As a member of the MFN’s policy counsel, Crain said she has faith the MFN will find a way to keep the center going.
“I wouldn’t be who I am without this place,” she said. “This place is extraordinary.”
Cecil College President Mary Way Bolt answers questions from parents after announcing the closing of the Family Education Center on Monday night.