Gloucester’s Pathways for Children, the Emerson Avenue family service facility that, since 1967, has provided early education and care to generations of low-income Cape Ann families, has received $ 250,000 to improve the quality of its learning environment.
The money – the maximum possible amount of a capital improvement grant from the state’s Early Childhood Education and Out-of-School Time (EEOST) Investment Fund – will be used for capital spending and will be concentrated, largely, on improving energy efficiency and overall air. building quality.
Laura O’Neil, Director of Development at Pathways, says the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the windfall, in that it has so raised awareness of the critical need for an environment of healthy and clean air.
“It was somewhat extraordinary,” O’Neil said, “in that it was money the state had that was sensitized due to COVID. Certainly, COVID created a bigger hold. awareness of the need for better air quality. “
Because environmental improvements were already underway at the facility, which was built in the 1950s, O’Neil said the opportunity to apply for the grant was “a perfect confluence of things.”
These upgrades, completed earlier this year, focused on the facility’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, increased minimum air changes per hour to double that recommended by the federal Centers of Disease Control.
The cost of the upgrades – completed by Essex Service under the supervision of local architect Patricia Seitz, will be reimbursed with state funding; the remaining money will be used to replace the original windows with energy efficient upgrades and pay for a canopy to shelter children and families during drop-off and pick-up.
For Pathways, which also has facilities in Beverly and Salem, the pandemic has presented unique challenges as its client base, low-income families, has been disproportionately affected by the lockdown.
“A lot of our parents work in the service industry,” O’Neil said. “For them, zooming in on the pandemic was not an option. They had to physically report to work.
Of the 2,500 people served each year by Pathways, 77% live at or below the federal poverty line, so home child care was not an option either. So unlike local schools, the Emerson Avenue facility had to physically reopen in July 2020, just three months after the lockdown.
“Our goal,” said O’Neil, “was to make sure our families were supported. As soon as it closed, we called a command team, we followed hourly instructions on security practices. We have distanced ourselves socially, there has been a more important, more rigorous cleaning. The sharing was done, each child had his own box of objects and materials. and they were good at wearing masks. “
In fact, said Eric Mitchell, President and CEO of Pathways for Children, “this past year has been busier than ever. Provide in-person education, virtual programs, healthy foods, and family resources and referrals.
The effort has not gone unnoticed by the Baker-Polito administration. “Across the Commonwealth,” Gov. Charlie Baker noted, child care centers “have worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to care for children and support families returning to work.”
For Pathways, the opportunity to apply for a grant seemed like recognition of a job well done. “We responded,” said O’Neil, with a “team effort”.
The Baker-Polito administration and the Children’s Investment Fund (CIF), along with its affiliate the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, funded the grant through the state capital budget and are providing funds counterparts that stimulate private investment.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to learn in high quality, safe, healthy and joyful educational environments,” said Early Childhood Education and Care Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy. “Well-designed classrooms and play spaces can greatly enhance early learning and help children grow and thrive. “
More information about Pathways, which offers a range of programs and bilingual support for eligible children from birth to 12 years old, can be found at https://www.pw4c.org/about-pathways.
Joann MacKenzie can be contacted at 978-675-2708, or [email protected]