Early Childhood Center hosts grand opening at new Main St location

  • Micah Kuma,5 , of Northampton,holds the ribbon while John Provost and David Narkewicz cut the ribbon at the ceremony for The Early Childhood Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mandy Gerry, Parent Child Home Program Coordinato, for The Early Childhood Center, answers questions during the ribbon cutting for the new location. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pamela Smith, the program assistant for The Early Childhood Center, answers questions during the ribbon cutting for the new location. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Liam Hurley and his son, Miles Hurley, 18 months, at the ribbon cutting for The Early Childhood Center, located in the Puchalski Municipal Building in downtown Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Monday, November 13, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — The Northampton Early Childhood Center celebrated the official opening of its new home, Room 102 of the Puchalski Municipal Building, on Monday, welcoming parents and public officials into the recently renovated space.

The downtown location, one flight down from the Northampton School District’s office, offers easy access for children and their families as well as proximity to district leadership.

Parents with questions about public school enrollment, Head Start, child care subsidies, early intervention programs or pediatric care can visit the center weekdays during school hours.

“Our mission really is to provide education, resources and support for young families,” said Erika Frank, the center’s new program coordinator and early childhood specialist. Referring to the center’s new home, she said, “I think this further solidifies our commitment and this team’s commitment to partnering with families to help grow some fine young people in Northampton.”

The team Frank referred to includes two other full-time coordinators, Mandy Gerry, the Parent-Child Home Program coordinator, and Pamela Smith, program assistant.

The center has been operating in its new location since August, leaving its former home in the Bridge Street School. In September, the program also said goodbye to its longtime early childhood coordinator, Barbara Black.

Black received the Daily Hampshire Gazette Person of the Year Award for her commitment to the program in March.

On Monday Frank, Black’s successor, welcomed over 30 Northampton residents and public officials to the grand opening, including Mayor David Narkewicz and Superintendent John Provost.

Provost said that sharing a building with the Northampton School District office will help the center streamline its services. Frank’s husband, Lonnie Kaufman, who was recently elected to serve his first full term on the School Committee, agreed.

“For many families, this is their introduction to Northampton,” Kaufman said. “It always has been, but now we have a very focused center for families to find the resources they need in one place.”

The center is overseen by Northampton/Hadley Family Connection. Funded by a $132,000 Coordinated Family and Community Engagement grant through the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, the center also receives support from the public school system. The Northampton Parents Center, the Hadley Playgroup and the Parent-Child Home Program all receive support from the grant as well.

As head of the Parent-Child Home Program and the Hadley Playgroup, Gerry helps many immigrant families and English language learners in Northampton, Hadley, Florence and Leeds assimilate into public schools.

“Because we do a lot of visits with students in public housing, we become a familiar face to parents so oftentimes parents will tell their friends about us,” said Gerry.

Four part-time employees work with the Parent-Child Home Program visiting families in their homes twice a month for two-year periods. They give books and toys to the kids who “need a little extra love” and give guide sheets to parents on how to foster literacy at home.

“We basically teach parents to be role models, and how important it is to talk to your child all the time,” Gerry said.

“This program allows us to be able to work with students and stay with them throughout their elementary career,” said Josh Dickson associate director of student services.

With a new ceiling, floors, furniture, toys and books — the work of Tony Kuznierz, school maintenance supervisor — the Northampton Early Childhood Center is an accommodating space for both parents and children.

“It’s a beautiful vision to be here,” Smith said. “It feels like having concrete space that honors young children, it puts realness to the experience of being a young child and a young parent.”

Provost commended Smith for her vision to turn the abandoned, cluttered space into a vital resource center.

“There were stacks of books everywhere, and smashed up pieces of computers lying around,” Provost said to Smith. “It was dark and grey. And I remember you said, ‘This place has good bones.’”

In connection with the Bridge Street School and Leeds School, the Early Childhood Center conducts free educational screenings for children age 3-5 and early intervention programs for children at risk of falling behind. Northampton/Hadley Family connection sponsors community events like family workshops and support groups, special events for immigrant families, and networking events for local preschool and child advocacy organizations.

“Our goal for the center is to provide families and students the opportunities to meet and mingle with peers and other families to build a sense of community,” Dickson said.

The Northampton Early Childhood Center, 212 Main St., is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The center also be hosting a Preschool Options & Community Resources Fair on Jan. 18, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.