MRDC to take over operation of Family Education Center
— After months of uncertainty, a new partnership between the Maryland Rural Development Corporation and the Maryland Family Network will keep the Family Education Center in Hollingsworth Manor open for the foreseeable future.
The MFN has been looking for a new partner to operate the center since Cecil College announced in April that it planned to end its involvement with the center after more than 25 years. On Thursday, MFN announced that MRDC,
which has operated four Head Start classes out of the center for many years, will take as partner starting Jan. 1. In its new role, MRDC will continue to run its Head Start programs but will also run the Early Head Start program and the building operation as well.
“We’re really happy to be able to partner with MFN, Elkton and Cecil County to make sure these necessary services stay in one location,” said Chris Derring, MRDC executive director. “The need for comprehensive care for low-income families is so great, and now we’ll have them from in utero all the way up to kindergarten.”
Head Start and Early Head Start are both federally-funded programs that promote school readiness for children from low-income families. Head Start focuses on children from birth to age 5 while Early Head Start is geared toward pregnant women, infants and toddles.
Although MRDC operates another Head Start class in Cecilton, the Elkton center is the only location in the county that offers Early Head Start. When Cecil College announced its
decision to pull out of the center, citing the loss of a grant as well as continued uncertainty surrounding the center’s primarily grant-funded services, there were worries that the FEC might close if another partner couldn’t be found.
Cecil College initially planned to end its involvement with the center at the end of September, but later pushed that deadline back to Dec. 31 in order to give the MFN more time to find a new partner.
The MFN has similar partnerships with 25 other organizations throughout the state to run family support centers. In this arrangement, MFN re- ceives federal and state funding for various early childhood programs, such as Early Head Start, and then subcontracts those funds to its partners, which run the programs and hire the staff.
In MFN’s search for a new partner for the Elkton center, MRDC emerged as a natural fit, said Linda Ramsey, MFN deputy executive director. Because MRDC already oper- ated Head Start programs out of the center, adding the Early Head Start programs made sense and will allow families to easily move from one program to another, Ramsey added.
“It was clear MRDC shared our goal of continuing services at the Family Education Center with as little disruption to the families as possible,” she said.
MRDC’s application also made it clear that the organization had the infrastructure and business-savvy to take on the operation of the center, Ramsey added.
Finally, Ramsey said the MFN was impressed by MRDC’s commitment to the early childhood programs and to the center. She noted that MRDC officials signed a lease for the center with the town of Elkton in September, before they found out whether MFN would chose them as the new partner.
The college previously held the lease on the building but MRDC signed a new lease with the town for $1 a year that started Oct. 1. The lease on the building, located at 200 Road B in Hollingsworth Manor, will run for 15 years with the option to be renewed.
Signing that lease was an easy decision for MRDC, Der- ring said, noting that before the organization signed the contract, he assured Ramsey MRDC would never kick the Early Head Start program out of the building, regardless of who was chosen as the new partner agency.
With the new partnership with MRDC set to start the day after the partnership with the college ends, Ramsey said she couldn’t be more pleased with how smooth the transition has been.
“Six months in my life is one thing but six months in the life of a toddler is a long time,” she said. “We knew we couldn’t wait.”
The Maryland Rural Development Corporation will take over the operation of the Family Education Center in Hollingsworth Manor starting Jan. 1.