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A place for children to grow

Posted: Saturday, Oct 13th, 2012

The Center community celebrated the new Head Start building on Friday. From left: Center Head Start Director Mary McClure, teacher Denise Martinez, architect Jim Zapf, DOLA representative Bill Gray and Saguache County Community Council President Audrey Chavez cut the ribbon.

Courier staff writer

CENTER — If Mary McClure hadn’t found her way to the Valley 40 years ago from Iowa, the future of Center’s children might be in jeopardy today.

On Friday, Center Head Start celebrated the latest addition to its Early Childhood Program, The Mary McClure Building, during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Warden Street. McClure, the Center Head Start director, did not expect the honor for making the project become a reality and for four decades of service.

“That wasn’t the way it was supposed to go,” McClure exclaimed after the building name announcement. “This is a surprise to me. I am really touched and I thank you all. I am humbled to receive this recognition.”

Known to coworkers and community members as a “fearless leader,” McClure sparked the building project that includes a new playground last year to meet the needs of Center’s babies, infants and toddlers that lost a place to start learning after the Saguache program closed its doors. The existing Center Head Start purchased the adjoining property and preexisting building, but it turned out the vacant structure was not adequate for renovations, making a new building a necessity and money an obstacle.

In response to the need, the Saguache County Commissioners awarded a $9,800 sales tax grant for a property survey, an architect’s floor plan and a construction estimate. Center Head Start, in return, took the funding and put it in the hands of architect Jim Zapf and Colorado Construction, the first of many that would contribute to the 100 percent local labor project.

“One of our goals was to employ all Valley contractors,” McClure said. “We are proud to say we accomplished that.”

To ensure the project would successfully continue, the commissioners sponsored a Colorado Department of Local Affairs Community Development Block Grant for $530,000 and awarded an additional sales tax grant for $30,000 to support the building’s construction.

“This has been a very successful partnership,” McClure said. “We appreciate it very much.”

In addition to the commissioners’ contribution, funding came from multiple resources. The Head Start regional office provided a $226,934 facility grant; the United States Department of Agriculture a rural development award for $110,000; the Qualistar Foundation $50,000 for quality childcare; the El Polmar Foundation $15,000 and the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation $47,000 in addition to roughly $250,000 of stimulus funding and monies made available through the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley.

The list of local contractors included Rocky Mountain Septic, Copley Construction, JD Builders, Teamwork Construction and Van Iwaarden Builders. Sam Jaramillo, Cambio, Inc.; The Center Migrant and Seasonal Head Start; the Saguache County Community Council; the Parent Policy Council, the Center Utility Department; the Saguache County Road and Bridge Department and the neighboring Center Tire Store were all instrumental in bringing the building to life.

“I want to thank everyone from the community who showed an interest, support and encouragement to make this dream come true and prove that we are as strong and capable as ever and ready to take the next steps for a better future for our children,” McClure said.

Rep. Ed Vigil added, “What you have done for the Town of Center is so important to the kids. An education is the best anti-poverty program you can give an individual. These schools are dream builders. Let them go to school and dream. You are awesome.”

Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to five from low-income families through enhancing cognitive, social and emotional development. The program provides comprehensive services to enrolled children and their families, which include health, nutrition, social and other appropriate services. The services are designed to be responsive to each child and family’s ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritage.

Head Start serves over a million children every year, including children in every U.S. state and territory and in American Indian/Alaska Native communities. Since 1965, nearly 30 million low-income children and their families have received these comprehensive services to increase their school readiness.

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