Our House, an organization in central Arkansas that helps the homeless with housing, job training, and youth programs, is celebrating the opening of its new Children's Center.
Staff there say the new center will allow the organization to serve three times the number of children currently in its programs.
With a grand opening celebration set for Saturday and more than 525 people on the RSVP list, the staff at Our House is enthusiastic about the Children's Center that's been a year in the making.
Assistant Director Ben Goodwin has been overseeing the project, working with architects and contractors to make it happen.
“We've seen this site go from a really dirty brownfield site to a construction site and a building that's gotten more and more safe for kids to the point that now we can have children in it, and that's a really gratifying feeling,” said Goodwin.
Executive Director of Our House, Georgia Mjartan, takes us on a tour of the center. She wants it to be a safe, fun learning environment that will help children thrive. The project was made possible with help from several hundred donors.
“So we're here in the children's center in the lobby and you see a sign that has 500 names on it. These are all our donors. These are private individuals, foundations, and families who gave so that this building could be built. It was a $5 million project,” said Mjartan.
Mjarten explains the center will serve children who are homeless or formerly homeless... or any child in the community who is part of family that's struggling to get by. The center has several classrooms for the Little Learners program. That's the licensed child development center at Our House.
“This is a space for as many as 60 zero to five year olds. The orange classroom is the infant room. Even though that are under one year old, they are actually being engaged in programming. This morning I walked in and they were doing painting with their little feet. It was so sweet,” said Mjartan.
“We incorporated huge windows and a lot of light into each of the classrooms so that the children had natural light so that they could look out at a green space with trees. Then there's playgrounds that are age-appropriate for infants, one-year-olds, and two-year-olds,” said Mjartan.
The center also features on-site therapy programs.
“[The therapy room] was custom built so that we could have occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, and also speech therapy for children who have experienced delays because of neglect and because of homelessness and some of the traumas that it brings,” said Mjartan.
There are also several classrooms for Our Club, the out-of-school-time youth program that will serve 90 children ages six to 17. It includes a space for teens.
“The teenagers all said, 'We want a space that's just for us. We don't want to be with the little kids. We want it to be cool. We want it to look like Starbucks. We want it to look like a cafe.' So this space is really, as they could say, chill.”
There's also a technology center and creative space with a recording studio for kids to mix their own music and make videos.
It's all an effort to help children thrive emotionally, developmentally, and academically.
“We want to give homeless children access to the best school. Access to the most awesome playground. Access to toys that are not just toys but educational learning games,” said Mjartan.
And while the children are learning and growing, their parents can have time to be connected with educational opportunities, learn life skills, and get assistance with finding and keeping full-time employment.