IN THE BEGINNING
The predecessor agency of Wesley Education Center for Children and Families was opened in January 1920 by the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church in response to needs voiced by young working mothers. Housed in one room of Friendship Home at 641 West Fourth Street downtown (a mission boarding home for young African American women, most of whom had recently migrated to Cincinnati from the South without any support from family or friends), the agency was called Friendship Home Nursery Kindergarten. It was under the supervision of the Cincinnati Kindergarten Training of the University of Cincinnati. The first director was Miss Louise Penn, a recent graduate of the kindergarten training program. She later became well known as Mrs. Louise Sandipher, an active member of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church.
In 1923, day care also became available at Friendship Home, and hours of 6:00 am to 6:00 pm were established. Children from 6 months to 14 years were accepted. When Friendship Home outgrew its space, the house next door was bought, allowing fifty children to be accommodated. Babies Milk Fund Association doctors and nurses conducted weekly clinics on the grounds and promoted good health and nutrition. Ms. Lucile Holliday, a deaconess in the Methodist Church, came to teach in 1924 and remained until she retired in 1965 after 41 years of service.
In 1928 Friendship Home Nursery Kindergarten enrolled 159 in kindergarten (daily attendance ranged from 23 to 93) and 83 in the day nursery (attendance ranging from 11 to 39). The Vacation Bible School ran for 24 days, enrolling 215! Needing still more space, it moved to 547 West Seventh Street. This was next door to Calvary Methodist Church, whose members helped with the Mothers Club and spiritual and family support activities. The infant care program continued until 1930, when only children who were two years and older were accepted in the nursery kindergarten. The name was then changed to Mother’s Memorial Center to encourage older neighborhood children to join the clubs and other activities.
The neighborhood surrounding the center was claimed for urban renewal projects in the late 1950s. Following the population shift, the Center left the downtown area and moved to Avondale using the old Pogue family home on Hale Avenue. Ground-breaking for the present building at that location was June 21, 1959, with the dedication on June 5, 1960. It was at this time that the name, Wesley Child Care Center, came into being and for the next ten years, the center used both the new building and the adjacent Pogue mansion to accommodate the large number of children.
Infant care was resumed in September 1970 in the aging Pogue mansion until falling plaster made relocation necessary. After two moves from less desirable accommodations, the Infant Center (licensed for 18 children in the 6 to 30 month age range) used space for ten years in the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church. During this time, 78 preschoolers (2 1/2 to 6 years old) were cared for at the Wesley Child Care Center.
To “bring back home” the infants and toddlers and to more efficiently manage and operate the two programs at one location, the “Expansion Program” (in two phases) was authorized by the Wesley Board of Directors. This growth was also intended to respond to the needs of parents of the 160 younger children on the waiting list.
In 1972, Ms. Lucile Holliday retired after 41 years of service as Director, advisor, and friend and was succeeded by Mrs. Louise C. Bowen, who established the city’s first after-school program.
To meet the growing demands for quality child care in the community (the waiting list had grown to 200 children), the “new” center expanded and added an Infant-Toddler wing, doubling the number of infants and toddlers from 18 to 36. It was dedicated with much ceremony on March 11, 1984. An additional wing was built for $212,000 and dedicated Oct 25, 1987. With this addition, the center was able to care for 54 infants and toddlers, 54 preschoolers, 22 kindergarteners, and 20 after-school students, for a total 150 children. There was also new space for laundry and storage.
In 1986 the Greater Cincinnati Foundation donated funds to renovate the playground, which was installed in 1987. Alyce B. Knox capably served as Wesley’s director for 15 years, from 1974-1989.
Wesley, striving for excellence in the field of early childhood education, became a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in 1998. Also in that year, Wesley created and implemented the Family Transitions Support Program.
In order to reflect its emphasis on quality education and family support, the center adopted its present name, Wesley Education Center for Children and Families, in 2000. Wesley also celebrated its 80th anniversary that year and dedicated the Hale Avenue building in honor of long-time director, Ms Lucile Holliday. Enrollment included 166 children.
During the more recent past (2000 to 2011), led by director Connie Fisher, then by Rita Bryant, then by Cassie Young, Wesley expanded its range of services to address the needs of the working family, became licensed to take infants as young as four weeks old, started a food pantry, and strengthened its relationship as a Head-Start Enrichment Center that has helped to provide field trips as well as health, dental, speech, and hearing screenings for the preschoolers. Successful summer camps for up to 60 children have provided a safe, enjoyable, and caring place for school-age children and a boost to maintaining their reading and math skills over the summer break. Summer camp activities have included “First Tee” golf outings, “Math in the Kitchen,” walks to the local library, and classes with a naturalist, gardening, and music enrichment. In 2008 the spacious tree-lined playground was extensively updated with new play equipment through a grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.
The past decade has also brought many financial challenges. Wesley’s large roof aged and needed to be replaced. Part of the drought-affected foundation cracked. Air conditioning, carpet, several doors, the refrigerator, and the boiler needed replacement and offices were renovated. Although the decade saw costs spiral (i.e., health insurance for teachers, and energy costs), childcare voucher fees remained static. To keep services open, the center in 2009 restructured several staff positions and implemented stringent cost containment measures.
Today, Wesley Education Center for Children and Families, led by Director Carla Butler, a Masters Degree prepared Wesley graduate, continues to provide vital, quality programs for a daily enrollment of about 50-60 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and looks forward to hosting an enriching summer camp for school-age children. The Center participates in the Step up to Quality program and meets and often exceeds licensing and Head Start requirements.
Adapted from writings by former board members Rev. Frank A. Rounsley (1983), Marjorie Kenty (1983-1991), and Ann Flanagan (2010) and recent updates by several others.
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