Safe haven area for par­ents, care­givers pro­vides re­sources

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Thomas Gase [email protected]­al­don­ @tga­sevth on Twit­ter

It was a day of cel­e­brat­ing firsts on Sonoma Boule­vard in Vallejo as a grand open­ing was held for the First5 Cen­ter, a new com­mu­nity gath­er­ing area de­signed to spark chil­dren’s cre­ativ­ity and love for learn­ing by en­cour­ag­ing them to play and grow.

The goal of the cen­ter (which is not a day­care) is to give par­ents and care­givers a safe and wel­com­ing place where they can re­ceive in­for­ma­tion and be con­nected to com­mu­nity re­sources. That in­cludes ba­sic sup­port ser­vices, hous­ing em­ploy­ment, food, health, den­tal and child sup­port ser­vices — all pro­vided at no cost.

The event drew ap­prox­i­mately 400 people, many of them kids un­der the age of five run­ning around in a jun­gle gym like area con­sist­ing of a fake mush­room and la­dy­bug as well as a bridge. Oth­ers at the event in­cluded elected of­fi­cials as well as fea­tured speak­ers Erin Han­ni­gan (Supervisor District 1), Lisette Estrella-Hen­der­son (Solano County Su­per­in­ten­dent of Schools), Vallejo Mayor Bob Sam­payan and Stephanie Hochman (Pro­gram Di­rec­tor, Bay Area Com­mu­nity Re­sources).

“I’m ec­static to­day. I woke up this morn­ing with so many emo­tions I al­most wanted to cry,” Han­ni­gan said. “It’s a needed re­source in a beau­ti­ful city. Not only are people able to work with the chil­dren here, but also this place helps strengthen the whole fam­ily.

A lot of people need ac­cess to county ser­vices and we have that and more ready for them.”

Michael Wil­son, a district rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Han­ni­gan, agreed that the event con­tained plenty of pos­i­tive en­ergy.

“Walk­ing in here to­day the first thing you no­tice is that this event was dif­fer­ent from other rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­monies be­cause it wasn’t just adults,” Wil­son said.

“It was a mix of kids and adults. I loved it and it was a great day for Vallejo. You see all these kids run­ning around and smil­ing and you can’t help but get in­spired.”

Some of the ser­vices that will be avail­able con­sist of ba­sic needs and sup­ports for hous­ing, em­ploy­ment ser­vices, food, health and den­tal ser­vices, child sup­port ser­vices and oth­ers.

The grand open­ing fea­tured zumbini for all ages, a brickspace for kids 3 years and older, as well as a mind­ful move­ment in one of the ac­tiv­ity rooms. There was a pup­peteer Ricky Roo, as well as book read­ings for kids through­out the day.

Kaliah Smith, 2, en­joyed a read­ing that fo­cused on dif­fer­ent kinds of an­i­mals in­clud­ing ze­bras and rat­tlesnakes.

“She re­ally likes the read­ing and story time to­day,” Smith’s mom, Sheeka DeO­campo said, with a big smile. “There are a lot of dif­fer­ent re­sources to find here. I’m here to look into child­care and find­ing schools avail­able for my daugh­ter to go to. I think

this place is great. They say Vallejo has never had a com­mu­nity place like this, so I had to make sure I came out to show sup­port to­day.”

Clarence Mills was shop­ping nearby with her 5-yearold daugh­ter, Casey, when they de­cided to see what the First5 Cen­ter was about.

“It said First5 and I was like, ‘Well, she’s (Casey) 5, so let’s check this place out,” Clarence said, with a laugh as Casey played with mag­nets nearby. “It’s a nice place for Casey to meet other chil­dren and so­cial­ize. It’s re­ally an in­spir­ing place for chil­dren.”

Michele Harris, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for First5 Solano, was thrilled at the turnout and re­ac­tion.

“I love see­ing all the joy on the kids faces,” Harris said. “There are so many fam­i­lies and this is what they wanted. Vallejo needed some­thing like this and for people to stop by and tell us this feels very grat­i­fy­ing and makes us feel very wel­come.”

Harris went on to say many con­trib­u­tors made the cen­ter pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing the Yocha Dehe Win­tun Na­tion, the County of Solano, the City of Vallejo, Wil­liam G. Ir­win Foun­da­tion, Syar Foun­da­tion, Sut­ter Health, Medic Am­bu­lance, Kaiser Per­ma­nente, Re­col­ogy, Billy and Louise Yar­brough Foun­da­tion, Meyer Cor­po­ra­tion, Buck Kam­phausen and An­heuser Busch.

An­thony Roberts, the chair of the Yoche Dehe Win­tun Na­tion, one of the fun­ders for the cen­ter, was also very pleased with the grand open­ing.

“We wanted a place for fam­i­lies and kids to in­ter­act

with oth­ers and we put our sup­port be­hind this place for those rea­sons,” Roberts said. “I had one lady that came up to me and said that she was very ex­cited to come here and en­joy the re­sources and learn. I take a lot of pride and pas­sion in hear­ing some­thing like that.”

Ben Deci, the pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the Yocha Dehe Win­tun Na­tion, agreed with Roberts.

“The tribe has put in a lot of work and they re­ally care about dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties and how to turn them around,” Deci said. “From top to bot­tom this place is de­signed to do that. We re­ally care about mak­ing the in­vest­ment in giv­ing people of Vallejo the most help they can get. And you look around to­day and it’s just con­ta­gious. When you see kids run­ning up and down all over this place, how can you not get ex­cited.”

Han­ni­gan went on to say that one of the most important things she liked about the cen­ter was the diver­sity in its staff.

“We wanted people that could speak English and Span­ish as well as many other dif­fer­ent lan­guages,” Han­ni­gan said. “We wanted African Amer­i­can teach­ers. We over­all wanted a warm and invit­ing place where fam­i­lies could feel safe and com­fort­able.”

The cen­ter is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon­day through Fri­day and will be open for three hours on Satur­day morn­ings. It is closed on Sun­days. For more in­for­ma­tion visit solanocoun­ depts/first5.


Maria Lis­ar­rga, 3, leans out a win­dow to wave from the mush­room house at the new First5Cen­ter in Vallejo on Thurs­day.

Robert Smith uses scarfs to play with his 7-month-old daugh­ter Aaliyah while vis­it­ing the First5Cen­ter with Christina Comic on Thurs­day.

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