Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Reaching out to Bring Families in; Early Learning Coalition's New Offices, Design Expand Appeal for Services

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Reaching out to Bring Families in; Early Learning Coalition's New Offices, Design Expand Appeal for Services

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

The Early Learning Coalition of Duval, based in Southside Jacksonville, faced a quandary when it mapped the low-income, working-family population it aimed to serve and found that most prospective clients live on the Northside and Westside.

Those families have to meet with coalition counselors to determine eligibility and find the best school readiness and other child-care services to meet their needs.

But the coalition's main office was on Philips Highway. The alternate eligibility screening site was downtown at the Jacksonville Children's Commission.

Change was in order, executive director Susan Main said.

In November the coalition opened two satellite offices on the Northside and Westside, replacing the Children's Commission site. With the help of a $36,000 Rotary Club grant, the new offices were designed and furnished to be family-friendly, with welcoming colors and layout and a playhouse.

The Southside office was redesigned in the same fashion, with a playhouse now under construction.

"We wanted to reach out to families," Main said, and make it easier for "families to reach out for services."

In addition, the coalition has expanded operating hours and transformed itself into a "one-stop shop" able to refer families for other services they may need.

"We have changed the model," Main said.

The new offices will be formally opened at a celebration at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Northside site, 5216 N. Pearl St. The keynote speaker will be Donnie Horner, Mayor Alvin Brown's education commissioner. The Westside location is at 5310 Lenox Ave.

The changes are drawing praise from families.

"It's calming," said Lenora Daniel, who had an appointment Thursday at the Northside office with her son, Ron Brown, 3. "You've got to have something to relax the kids."

As she met with a counselor, Ron romped around the playhouse, which has a house facade complete with a front porch and interior space to play. Toys of all sorts were scattered about, including a diverse array of baby dolls.

Elizabeth Mobley, who was there with her two sons - Da'mari, 2, and Rashad, 1 - said the Northside office was "a lot closer for me. …

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