BRIGHTON PARK — Aiming to bridge an early learning gap in surround South Side neighborhoods, Gads Hill Center opened a new $7 million early childhood education center in Brighton Park.
The Pilsen-based nonprofit opened the new flagship center at 4255 S. Archer Ave. late last month, and it will provide early childhood education to 124 children, plus trauma-informed mental health services and parent education, leaders siad.
“This new center is the key to prosperity for many working families in Brighton Park,” said Maricela Garcia, Gads Hill Center CEO.
“Children will build the skills to succeed in school while allowing their parents to hold full-time jobs. Access to quality education can transform families in a single generation,” she said.
The renovated 18,000-square-foot building includes nine classrooms and an outdoor play area designed by Juan Gabriel Moreno Architects.
A pair of studies highlighted the need for early childhood education in the South Side neighborhood, Garcia told Block Club last year.
Brighton Park topped the list of communities in need of such services, followed by Belmont Cragin, Albany Park, Chicago Lawn and South Chicago, according to the Illinois Facility Fund.
Demand for these services has been a result of demographic shifts. More than 10,000 children moved to Brighton Park between 1990 and 2007, according to a study by Chapin Hall Center for Children.
The influx of children in the neighborhood over generations has resulted in more than 3,000 children without essential early childhood services, Garcia said.
Changes in Brighton Park come as demographics are shifting in Latino neighborhoods on the Southwest Side, Garcia said. A 2016 study found that more than 10,300 Hispanic residents had left the Pilsen, where Gads Hill is headquartered, between 2000 and 2010, a 26 percent drop.
The biggest drop — 41 percent — was in the number of families with children living in the neighborhood.
“These families are moving southwest past I-55 to Brighton Park, McKinley Park and Back of the Yards,” Garcia said. “These were the destination most of these families from Pilsen were choosing, and these are the neighborhoods where we are seeing an increased need for these services.”
Gads Hill Center has been providing educational support services focused on helping immigrant and low-income children and youth since 1898 in Pilsen. The organization offers a range of services, including preschool, home visits, after-school program, STEM and arts programming.
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