ADULTS, KIDS CELEBRATE OPENING OF FIRST5 CENTER
Safe haven area for parents, caregivers provides resources
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 solanocounty.com/ 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.