Summer 2006 Newsletter

More Pre-K Seats in L.A.'s Boyle Heights Planned

Maria UribeThe International Institute of Los Angeles' mission encompasses a broad spectrum of family wellness. It helps families with everything from economic self-sufficiency to legal services to transportation, and, as a licensed childcare provider, it operates low-cost, high-quality childcare centers throughout the region. It does not, however, specialize in real estate, which is why IILA's Coordinator of Childcare Services Maria Uribe accepted NSBN's help in establishing a much-needed pre-K center in Boyle Heights and is now considering other opportunities by which NSBN can help them branch out and extend needed services to even more children and families.

With the array of services for children and families provided by the International Institute, elaborate on what was to be gained by entering into a memorandum of understanding with NSBN to investigate joint- and shared-use neighborhood-centered facilities? How complementary are the two organizations' ambitions?

When NSBN first met with us, we were excited that somebody took an interest in our important work. We have had problems over the years with the cost and availability of our existing facilities, which too often have imposed significant rent increases or are lost to us due to the sale of the buildings or the rental of our space to enterprises that are more profitable and thus are more willing to pay higher rents than childcare permits.

Our facility costs are important to us; the bottom line is that we need to carefully budget for space in order to maintain affordable services for our clients, who are mostly low-income. Similarly, we prefer sites specifically designed for child care rather than the more typical spaces which have been renovated for other and less child-friendly uses.

NSBN presented the type of services that we could benefit from immediately, and we were enthusiastic about working together. We shared a lot of information about the programs we would like to provide in different areas of LA County. NSBN has helped us find two schools—one in Panorama City and the other in Boyle Heights with Plaza Community Center. We want to continue to work together to serve the community and the children of the community, and we will continue to explore with NSBN other potential sites in L.A. County.

You have been providing childcare services in Boyle Heights for sometime. Describe the need for your services. Is demand growing?

There's a great need for childcare programs in Boyle Heights; in fact there are too few childcare and pre-K, spaces available presently. We've never collaborated with another nonprofit or shared a child care program facility. But we have a very good relationship with Plaza Community Center; and NSBN's suggestion that we collaborate with Plaza—share a building—on providing family services makes good sense. Just bringing the two programs together will enrich our planned two-block community complex in Boyle Heights. The plans afford the opportunity to expand our services and provide access for both our students and their families to the rich level of services proposed and possible at the site.

How much demand is there for IILA's services?

There's a large and growing demand. We have a waiting list of families—it takes more than a year to get into our program, which is difficult, especially for working parents who need reliable and high quality childcare.

The new Gold Line light rail and rail stations, new housing units, and a new high school are all being built in Boyle Heights. How can the International Institute of LA, with NSBN's planning assistance, best serve Boyle Heights families?

Since the housing is either affordable or subsidized, most of those parents living in it will qualify for our program. We provide a comprehensive program and we can serve that community without the need to go outside of the neighborhood. Additionally, we can serve children from other parts of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles since the Gold Line will bring us some clients from those communities. The new train will facilitate transportation for some of our parents who commute to jobs or schools in other areas, making this location ideal for them.

NSBN currently focuses on assisting providers to site new and expanded pre-K school facilities as joint- and shared-use centers of their neighborhoods. Elaborate on the challenges of offering families an array of such neighborhood services safely and conveniently.

The institute hasn't collaborated in delivering these types of services before, but we have collaborated on other projects with the neighborhood. One of those projects focuses on training parents for new/better jobs. We now plan to be involved in parent education and hope to extend those services beyond our work with parents who currently use our services at the site.

Working together with the schools is also a really important component, which fits with our school readiness initiatives with the First 5 LA Commission. Equally important is the health issue for the students and parents since academic achievement is related to the general health of the students and their families. If we are able to bring those services safely and conveniently to the neighborhood, I think it would enrich our programs and the health of the community.

By IILA focusing on expanding quality childcare service delivery and NSBN lending its expertise in securing more facilities, we see ourselves in a much stronger position. The synergy is very powerful.

Share with our readers IILA's present First 5 LA supported work, and what projects you hope to do with LAUP.

As I mentioned earlier, we have a school readiness initiative (SRI) contract with First 5 LA Commission to link our preschools with the academic requirements of the kindergartens that our students will be attending. Since we already have a well-established academically-focused program, we hope to get the funding for operations from LAUP by achieving a five-star quality rating. This funding would enhance our ability to work in the community and provide services for children that we have not yet been able to reach.

Further subsidizing our state preschool program is really going to help us in this regard. The programs, of course, are all high-quality because there's a mandate from the state Department of Education to provide such levels of service. We do lesson plans, children's assessments, developmental profiles, and curriculum design as a regular part of our services; everything is assessed and reviewed in our approach to quality. Currently, we're conducting a comprehensive evaluation of our centers to make sure we are following all the guidelines that refer to quality and accreditation.

What sort of opportunity might a Panorama City site provide for the International Institute's programs? How might NSBN assist you?

Our landlord has sold the facility in Van Nuys where we're currently located. It serves over 100 children, and we need placement for them when we are forced to close it. We have been given an eviction date of June 30, but we want to be able to continue our services to that community. We need LAUP or state preschool funding to maintain low-cost services, as long as we serve that particular area and that community which require subsidized rates. I know that there's a need in the Valley to provide services for children of working parents and a need to provide preschool children with an enriching program. We're intent on not losing slots, because that's a whole lot of slots. Of course, our goal is to expand opportunities, especially for economically disadvantaged families.

By working with NSBN, we are investigating whether we can get a new site in Panorama City. The site we have in mind had a Head Start program, and apparently, the agency scheduled to run the facility lost its funding. Our interest in working together with NSBN involves trying to get that facility licensed and have some slots open for our children in Van Nuys. NSBN also is working to assist us with identifying other nearby sites within the LAUP-designated "area of greatest need" in Panorama City in order to obtain both operating and facilities funds, the latter might help cover the costs of any renovations or temporary facilities until permanent ones can be identified.

NSBN's pre-K planning model differs from other models, which start not by funding child care providers to find buildable sites, but by focusing on finding joint use neighborhood centered sites and then, through collaborative planning, offering service providers an opportunity to build their plans with the assistance of planning professionals and the leveraging power of compatible public funding. Does such an approach work well for you?

Yes, it does. NSBN provides essential expertise in finding that type of facility and real estate. It's not an area of my expertise and certainly not a core competency for my colleagues at IILA. That really helps us to focus on what we do best – providing quality early childhood development. We now look to NSBN to collaborate on this piece of the puzzle in order to help us locate our services and get the facility licensed and operating.

How important are the school, park and infrastructure bond measures on the November ballot for pre-K organizations like yours?

These bond funds are important because of all the demand for services that I've been talking about regarding the importance of providing family assistance for our communities. The additional funding will allow International Institute of LA and other childcare providers to develop and expand facilities while improving curriculum and maintaining affordability for all parents, regardless of income. The current geographic limits of LAUP's "areas of greatest need" are still too limiting and do not allow us to service all of our potential clients. The bonds will help make childcare truly "universal."