The Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center, situated in Middletown’s Douglas Park, is home to the Community Building Institute. A new United Way of Greater Cincinnati agency partner, the Community Building Institute’s Parent Resource Center, initially opened in 2010 through the Place Matters initiative. Verlena Stewart, Community Center Director and a Middletown native, said the Parent Resource Center was created in response to the concern that Douglas Park parents lacked access to quality early child care, a myriad of parenting skills, and a connection to resources.
To gain further insight, a focus group, comprised of young mothers, was created to explore issues faced by neighborhood parents. The group determined that most individuals have access to a variety of resources through various local service agencies and benefits programs, but one glaring gap in services was identified - the accessibility of tangible items such as diapers, wipes, and formula. By providing these necessities in a free Baby Essentials kit, the center is now known as the “go to” place for struggling parents.
Getting families in the door, however, is just the start. The center functions on the concept that building trust and credibility, through providing tangible resources, eventually allows the conversation to shift to a wider range of factors impacting families. Stewart has found that “once you’ve removed barriers from a parent's life and their child’s basic needs are met, parents become mentally prepared to talk about early education." This model has been very successful; last year alone the Parent Resource Center was able to connect 122 children to quality Pre-K opportunities.
Quality early education is essential, Stewart says, when you consider that 90% of our brain is developed within the first five years. Getting parents and children plugged in to the opportunities and resources available in the community ensures that every child is ready and confident when they hit the door their first day of kindergarten. Not only are the children prepared with backpacks and school supplies, but they are also equipped with the social and emotional skills necessary to be successful as lifelong learners. And, equally important, the parents are also excited and ready for this milestone.
“We're proud to welcome the Community Building Institute and the Parent Resource Center as an agency partner in support of our mission to collaboratively create a brighter future for our community,” said Terry Sherrer, director, United Way of Greater Cincinnati - Middletown Area.
In addition to teaching parents about the importance of early education and connecting them to educational resources, the Center also focuses on helping parents increase self-sufficiency. The center serves as a site to connect individuals to the Ohio Benefit Bank, GED courses, financial literacy seminars, and a variety other services. Many of these are administered by other local United Way agency partners, including Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, Abilities First, Life Span, and Butler County Educational Services Center.
“When the parents are less consumed by the day to day struggles, they have the space to enjoy time with their kids and focus on being the best parents they can be,” notes Stewart.
So what is the greatest impact of the center? Some might say helping struggling parents get the resources they need to care for their children now. Others might say connecting families to resources that will positively impact their future. But for Stewart, “The greatest thing we’ve been able to do is build the community among the parents, and create a network of individuals who are confident sharing the message about the importance of early education.”