ALBANY PARK — New owners have taken over the Albany Park Community Center in a move leaders say will benefit early childhood education and child care programs.
The center is now the Carole Robertson Center for Learning at Albany Park. The Carole Robertson Center, a nonprofit with flagships in North Lawndale and Little Village, assumed control of the Northwest Side facility Aug. 1.
The community center at 5101 N. Kimball Ave. has been a haven for new immigrants for more than 40 years, offering early education and youth development programs to Albany Park’s diverse community.
Albany Park has one of the highest densities of families with children in Chicago, according to WBEZ’s Curious City. Many of those families are immigrants thanks to Albany Park’s longtime role as a “port of entry.” That’s one of the reasons Theodore Roosevelt High School offers bilingual services in Arabic, French and Spanish, as well as refugee services.
“As we were doing our homework and learning more about the community, what we found were three key things: a lack of resources and services, a highly populated area with children 5 and under, and that it was really a linguistically and culturally diverse community,” said Bela Moté, Carole Robertson’s president and CEO.
The two nonprofits collaborated earlier this year through a federal Early Head Start grant to expand early learning options to more children in Chicago. During that time, the Albany Park group changed leadership. As officials evaluated the center’s future, it made sense to ask the Carole Robertson Center if they’d like to acquire them, they said.
“Carole Robertson Center for Learning has the expertise and proven programs to expand these critical services here in Albany Park,” said Paul Foley, Albany Park’s board chair. “For our families, education is the most pressing need, and this transition brings resources and stability to our center, enabling us to better serve the Albany Park community into the future.”
Though the community center has been an anchor for Albany Park families, very few children younger than 3 years old were enrolled in its programs, Moté said. With the acquisition and an infusion of funding, the Albany Park center can serve 36 more infants and toddlers through its home visits program, which provides activities focused on child development.
While there are early childhood resources available in Albany Park, they are concentrated in gentrified areas, leaving many families without many options, she said.
“The largest development of the brain happens in the first five years of life. Kids are growing a mile a minute; and if you need or choose to put your child in an early learning setting, you want it to be high quality and impactful,” Moté said.
Acquiring the community center was an ideal partnership since the groups share similar commitments to early childhood and youth development, Moté said.
“Families who might not know Carole Robertson Center may think ‘Why are we taking over?’ But really we’re leveraging each other’s assets and skills, combining forces to make even better work happen together,” Moté said.
This is the latest expansion for the Carole Robinson Center.
The organization received a five-year, $103 million grant to serve more than 1,100 young learners last month. It also received a five-year, $20 million grant in March to bring its services to nearly 200 more kids in under-resourced communities. Both grants were from the U.S. Office of Head Start.
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