EDWARDS — Life was pretty glum at the Family Learning Center in Edwards just a month ago. The mood has brightened considerably in just the past couple of weeks.
The center, which serves many of the lower-income families in the Edwards area, announced Nov. 15 it would have to close its doors Dec. 31, citing a combination of increased need by families and declining public and private funding. The center recently announced it will be able to remain open into 2014, thanks to help from a variety of grants and donations.
Spirit of Giving
The exact numbers won’t be finalized for another week or two, but Learning Center board members have been working for the past few months with Eagle County officials to put together a funding request from the county’s community grant program.
Assistant County Manager Rachel Oys said that grant request was for $736,000, a big chunk of the community grant fund. Those numbers will change somewhat when finalized, but Oys said the ultimate grant will be substantial.
Commissioner Jill Ryan said the commissioners felt obligated to help for a few reasons. At the top of that list is the continuing need for child care in the valley, especially for working families with infants and toddlers. While there’s relatively more space for older children, very young kids require more teachers and the requirements for licensing are more stringent.
Then there’s the fact that so many of the Learning Center’s families receive some sort of assistance, either from state or federal programs. The most stringent requirements come from the federal Early Head Start program. Virtually all of the county’s Early Head Start kids are at the Family Learning Center, Ryan said.
“We wanted to spread those kids out,” Ryan said. “We just couldn’t do it — the standards are so strict.”
A Variety of Helpers
Oys said the aid package to the Learning Center will be made up of money and help from a variety of sources, including the center’s board of directors, the Eagle County School District and the St. Clare Parish, from which the center leases space.
The assistance will also come with some requirements. Oys said the center and its overall progress will be evaluated at the end of the first quarter of 2014.
“We’re also going to see what opportunities there are for the future,” Oys said.
Learning Center board chairwoman Veronica Calderon said there’s a renewed commitment to a more solid financial future for the facility.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Calderon said. “Now that we have the help we need, we need to keep working — we’ll be doing our best to sustain ourselves.”
That work will include applying for grants and local fundraising for the center.
Calderon said it’s only been in the past couple of weeks that the gloom over possibly closing turned to optimism that the center could remain open.
During that time, most of the center’s client families held out hope.
“Only about a half-dozen kids are continuing on to other centers,” said Sandy Jennings, the center’s director. “We’re honored that a lot of families hung in there and wanted to stay.”
Jennings said the center’s staff and families are all “very excited — the community support has been truly amazing.”
And, Oys said, the fact the center can stay open has broader effects.
“If the center had closed, we wouldn’t be able to place those kids (using state and federal programs),” Oys said. “Then, how would those families be able to keep their jobs? It all has an impact on the business community.”