By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Akron's federal housing agency won a $4 million grant to build an Early Childhood/Adult Learning Center in the Summit Lake neighborhood.
Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority was one of only 10 agencies in the country to receive one of the grants totaling $34 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
''I'm still sort of in shock about all of this,'' said Christine Yuhasz, AMHA Community Relations Director. ''This is so unbelievable that we've been able to get this. We actually didn't get the official notice from HUD until today.''
The Summit Lake Family Opportunity Center will be built next to the Summit Lake Community Center, which serves the neighborhood just south of Interstate 77-76 near Manchester Road.
AMHA operates the 241-unit Summit Lake Apartments, which is next door to the city-operated community center.
The new family center, which will be available to anyone in the neighborhood, will help children prepare for kindergarten and also provide services to their parents and to other adults who need help with learning computer skills, obtaining a GED and finding a job.
Yuhasz said there is no formal preschool available to parents in that neighborhood.
City offers land
The city of Akron will provide the land for the new building. The neighborhood is in Council President Marco Sommerville's Ward 3.
He said kids there need extra help so that they can start kindergarten with the same skills and preparation as children from wealthier families.
''This is going to put them on footing where they can catch up and even do more than what they're expected to do,'' Sommerville said.
Akron Summit County Community Action will provide two Early Head Start classrooms for ages 6 months to 3 years and two regular Head Start classrooms for ages 3 to 5.
Akron Public Schools will have two kindergarten classrooms at the center, which also will have a kitchen, two comput
er labs, an adult learning classroom, a parent education classroom, a multipurpose room and client meeting rooms.
AMHA expects the new construction to be completed by January 2013.
Several other agencies and institutions have agreed to offer services at the new center too, including:
• Greenleaf Family Center: a teen parenting program and the Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) program, which helps parents prepare children ages 3 and 4 for kindergarten. AMHA's ''Parents as Teachers'' helps parents of children from birth to 3 years old.
• Child Guidance & Family Solutions: Incredible Years program to address behavior problems in children from birth to 6.
• Akron-Summit County Public Library: storytime for children of different ages and Every Child Ready to Read program to help parents promote early literacy.
• Project Learn: adult education including computer literacy, preparation to pass the GED and help filling out financial aid forms for college or job training.
• Goodwill Industries: two-hour job skills classes twice a month, covering resume writing, interviewing and networking.
• Summit County Department of Job and Family Services: an onsite case manager to help with employment.
• Boys & Girls Club: youth services.
AMHA has won some big grants from HUD in the past a $20 million HOPE VI grant in 2005 to remake Edgewood Homes and a similar grant of $19 million two years earlier to replace its oldest housing project, Elizabeth Park.
The agency cited the success of those projects in its grant application as well as its collaboration with city and county governments and the numerous area institutions and agencies that have made early childhood learning a priority.
In 2009, Summit County Executive Russ Pry brought all those different groups together to form a comprehensive plan for early education in the county called First Things First.
''Really, because we're all members of Russ Pry's First Things First Council, which is an early childhood initiative, we were keeping a lot of those things in mind as well and what would be best for the kids who would be coming out of a program like that,'' said Akron superintendent David James.
The district closed Summit Lake's neighborhood school, Lincoln Elementary, in 2009, along with four other school buildings because of declining enrollment.
McEbright elementary school has been using the Lincoln building until its new school opens this fall.
The former Lincoln students will then attend the new McEbright school about a mile and a half farther east. That has worried some Summit Lake residents who fear that their community is being abandoned, Yuhasz said.
''The fact that we are going to be able to keep these kids through that transition point going into kindergarten is huge and we've designed the building to add first- and second-grade classrooms as well if funding permits for Akron Public Schools,'' Yuhasz said.
The district has committed only to kindergarten classes at Summit Lake for now.
''We'll be working with the partners on that site so that residents in that development will be able to keep their kids there, moving from an early childhood education program into kindergarten,'' James said.
Improvements to the area may increase the number of families living there, which would increase the demand for higher grades.
''It would be nice if we could add first and second grade, but there's going to be some other things I think are going to have to happen in the neighborhood before that could actually happen,'' James said. ''We're going to concentrate on doing the kindergarten partnership with them and take it from there.''