RUTLAND — A chunk of federal and state money will help the Rutland County Parent-Child Center expand its Chaplin Avenue property into a community hub with an extensive list of social services for families in need.
The Parent-Child Center announced the combination of loans and grants, totaling $1.5 million, on Wednesday morning in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, which provided $1.2 million of the money.
The Chaplin complex, now used by the organization as an early child care center, will be transformed into a “whole family education center” by July.
“I’ll try not to cry,” Mary Feldman, executive director of the Parent-Child Center, said before explaining what the grant will mean for the organization. “We’ve been trying to get this money for years.”
The new space, involving two buildings and a total of 12,000 square feet, will include classrooms, meeting spaces, private counseling spaces, a community garden and playground, laundry and shower facilities, and a new kitchen designed to produce 2,000 meals per week.
“The concept is: coffee and soup is always on,” Feldman said.
An expanded child care program will offer 88 new early education spots, with supports such as child care during addiction recovery meetings for parents. At a dedicated high school, pregnant and parenting youth will be able to earn diplomas and learn about child development.
Feldman said she plans to staff a floating case manager in common areas to connect with people in the community and “anticipate their needs before they become crises.”
However, while the $1.5 million provides money for the renovation, it doesn’t include operating or staff costs.
“The idea is for it to be a community space where people feel like they’re at home,” she said.
“Not guests, customers, consumers or, even worse, intruders. This space belongs to our community.”
She hopes community members will connect with each other and thereby increase their “social capital,” whose absence often stands in the way of social mobility, she said.
The USDA allocated $367,600 to the center through a Community Facilities Disaster Grant, geared to help community nonprofits during Covid-19. An additional $833,900 loan will come from the USDA’s Community Facilities Direct Loan & Grant Program, which provides funding to help develop “essential facilities in rural areas.”
The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development added $299,999 to the total package.
The organization will move its staff and administrative offices to the new center. Feldman plans to repurpose the center’s current hub on Madison Street, though she’s not sure yet what that will look like.
Parent-child centers exist across the state, but Rutland’s was the first to adopt the “2Gen” approach to social work, which offers services to parents and children at the same time.
Feldman brought the approach into the center when she moved from Florida to take the helm four years ago and has been following a model laid out by Ascend at the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Colorado.
“This 2Gen center is rooted in peer-reviewed research and best practices and in mitigating poverty and bringing people together,” she said.
The Rutland County Parent-Child Center has also taken the lead in a pilot project to make vital social services more accessible to the families who need them most.
The forthcoming center represents a new approach to community development, Feldman said, and should break down barriers for people experiencing poverty. She hopes the center’s model might influence the distribution of social services outside of Rutland.
Feldman is “over the moon” about the funding, she said Wednesday morning.
“There’s a tremendous amount of gratitude,” she said, “for the opportunity to try to live out something that, I think, will transform poverty in our community.”
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