Col­lege plans to close Fam­ily Education Cen­ter

Grant loss leads to un­cer­tain fu­ture

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - IS­SUE By JES­SICA IAN­NETTA

jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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-

ELK­TON

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 WHIG PHOTO BY JES­SICA IAN­NETTA

Ce­cil Col­lege President Mary Way Bolt an­swers ques­tions from par­ents af­ter an­nounc­ing the clos­ing of the Fam­ily Education Cen­ter on Mon­day night.

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