Mission Neighborhood Centers, a local nonprofit, will open a new center this month for 88 children to attend Head Start, an early education programs for preschool aged children.
The half-day programs will begin August 11 at 1245 Alabama Street near 24th Street, formerly a convent for the neighboring St. Peters church. The center will also have one full-day mixed-income daycare classroom.
The space sat empty for 20 years before Mission Neighborhood Centers became the two-story building’s new long-term lessee. The nonprofit and has renovated the building to turn it into a childcare center on the ground floor. The second floor will continue to undergo renovations for about three months to become a family services center and an office that handles ongoing enrollments in the nonprofit’s program.
Most families who will bring their children to the “Centro de Alegría” will be low income, though the center will serve a mixture of income levels.
Head Start’s mission is to prepare young children for success in school, laying the groundwork for them to pursue higher education later in life.
“I like what I see. He’s going to be in a good space, a safe space,” said Miriam Ramirez, the mother of a 3-year-old set to attend the program. “I hope he will learn to coexist with more people, more children. I hope in the future when he’s older that he’ll have good memories of this place.”
With its bright colors and natural wood, open floor plans and plenty of windows, the center is inviting and warm – “the learning environment it needs to be,” as Mission Neighborhood Centers’ Executive Director Santiago Ruiz put it.
“It looks really nice ,like he’s going to have a lot of fun,” said Yasmin Ramos, another mother whose four-year-old will attend when the center opens. “Hopefully he learns a little bit more than he would at home.”
Opening the center cost roughly $1.3 million, but Mission Neighborhood Centers continues to fundraise aggressively to improve and expand its programming around the Mission. While other centers, like the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, have been forced to consolidate because their clientele has been forced out of the neighborhood, Mission Neighborhood Centers is growing and restructuring.
Dolores Terrazas, who directs the children and family services, said while the enrollment in Head Start programs has dropped slightly, many families that have moved out of the neighborhood continue to bring their children to her organization.
“Our work is to ensure a pipeline to education” Terrazas said. “We’re working to ensure that children from under-resourced families get the highest quality education.”
To that end, the programs offered take a “two-generation” approach – parents don’t just drop off and pick up their kids, they receive individualized attention from the teachers working at the centers. Teachers in the program are credentialed or have college degrees. They also earn a living wage and receive benefits in order to make the work attractive in increasingly teacher-hostile San Francisco.
“Our families are in positions of very little choices. We want to ensure that the choices they have with us are high quality,” Terrazas said.
Among the other services provided by the centers is Mission Girls, a youth program for at-risk young women, a senior services program, and workforce development. Centro de Alegría will be one of ten early childcare facilities the nonprofit runs. Mission Neighborhood Centers is also preparing to relocate its Mission Girls program from its current location on 24th and Harrison streets to 24th and Folsom streets – not because of a rent increase or downsizing, but because affordable senior housing will be built at that location.