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On Tuesday, the city’s top brass, and a collection of philanthropists and non-profits, will break ground on a 32,000-square-foot facility in the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood of Ward 7 that will provide early childhood education services to an area where 72 percent of households are headed by single mothers.
But the Educare building, as it’s known, is much more than a school. It’s also the first piece of a federally-funded plan to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Manhattan, using a model of integrated educational and social services to transform a kid’s whole environment, not just the time they spend in a classroom.
Last year, a coalition headed by Cesar Chavez Charter School founder Irasema Salcedo won $500,000—one of 21 federal grants handed out by the federal “Promise Neighborhoods” program and matched by private sector contributions—to plot the initiative. They pulled together heavy-hitting donors like Warren Buffett‘s daughter and the Pritzker, Kellogg, Kaiser and Gates Foundations to kick in $12 million for the facility, which will be funded on an ongoing basis by a combination of local and federal government dollars, along with a privately-supplied endowment.
The thing that makes the Promise Neighborhoods work—and what Salcedo had to demonstrate in order to win the highly competitive grant—is buy-in from non-profit organizations, businesses, and local government to support a cradle-to-college pipeline for kids growing up in a community weakened by drugs and crime. One of the important partners is developer CityInterests, which is working on a huge planned unit development that will involve senior housing, townhouses, a primary care clinic, office buildings, and the flagship campus of the Community College of D.C. As part of that development, a new footbridge will connect the isolated-feeling neighborhood to the Minnesota-Benning metro station.
Also, according to the D.C. Housing Authority, the boatload of federal and private investment is making the Kenilworth property a good candidate for the department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods grant, which would transform it into a mixed-income community also built around the idea of comprehensive education, transportation, and healthcare services.
All of these things are longer-term projects. Right now, organizers are looking for an open-air food market to go into a local park, for the health component of their vision.
“It’s a multiheaded happy hydra,” explains Melinda Hudson, senior vice president at the America’s Promise Alliance, which supports promise neighborhoods around the country.