Agencies envision new center for Liberty Park

Kids Unlimited, OnTrack and Family Nurturing Center leaders say they'll use federal grant money to build a better future for families in the Liberty Park neighborhood.

Kids Unlimited Executive Director Tom Cole said a $113,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded by Medford will work as seed money in building an educational center.

Cole said he, OnTrack Director Rita Sullivan and Mary-Curtis Gramley of the Family Nurturing Center have been talking about the need for a coordinated resource center in Medford's poorest neighborhood for over a year.

"We can share a physical space and our larger missions of providing services collaboratively," Cole said.

Creating a more encompassing network of support for struggling families living in economically challenged neighborhoods has shown success in other models across the nation, Cole said.

The key, he said, is to get parents invested in the benefits of ensuring their children get a quality education. Cole visited a charter school in Atlanta, Ga., that demonstrated a multi-aged approach to affecting families, he said.

Cole said generations of families have had their children participate in Kids Unlimited over the past decade and longer, some of whom are getting into the top colleges and universities in the nation. Now he's looking at their younger siblings for inclusion in the next generation of college grads.

"We are looking at what are the shared things we offer, and how we can be bigger than just the scope of our own services," he said.

The earlier an at-risk child gets supportive care, the better the potential outcome, said Gramley.

Stressing the Family Nurturing Center would continue to provide its services as a respite and therapeutic nursery, Gramley said she and Cole started putting ideas on paper to collaborate on a multi-faceted center that would offer even more help to parents who are struggling to get their lives on track.

"I've been wanting to offer a full-day, high-quality, low-cost or no-cost day care for high-risk families for a long time," she said.

The Kids Unlimited connection will allow Gramley and her staff to maintain contact with children who have "aged out" of the center, Gramley added.

"They leave us at age 4 or 5," Gramley said. "And we've just not had a way to keep in touch with where they are and how they are doing. And, in some regards, they are just getting started."

A child who missed out on fundamental building blocks of nurturing, much less education, can struggle in public schools — particularly if their parents haven't themselves learned the value of education, or are unsure of how to advocate for their child, Gramley said.

Parents who are struggling with generational parenting issues, poverty or drug or alcohol abuse need time and support to work out their issues — and so do their children, said Sullivan.

OnTrack is on board with participating in a small, neighborhood resource center. Parents who are struggling with addiction or housing issues and whose children are currently in state custody will benefit from a center that offers support and education for themselves and their children.

"I'm excited about all the collaboration," Sullivan said. "We're offering a broader array of services. This is just the beginning of creating something along the lines of the Promise Neighborhood community model."

Cole and Gramley agree. Thanks to the grant, the partners have the land. Now they need to fund the building. But they aren't stopping there, Cole said.

"It really could happen in our community if we lined up the right partners," Cole said. "We can mobilize this neighborhood and be more things to kids and families."

The initial funds will only be enough to purchase the land and building; Kids Unlimited will have to raise additional dollars to complete the project, he said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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