Almost eight years after state Rep. La Shawn Ford purchased the building across the street from the Austin Child Care Providers Network, 5701 W. Division St., plans are underway to renovate the space and open it to local residents.
“In any community, you need to have anchors, and you need to have opportunities for families to help meet their needs, and Austin clearly is a community that has a lot of need,” Ford said.
The new anchor will soon be used as a community center and training location for the Austin Child Care Providers Network.
The mortgage-free space was once an office for Ford’s realty company, Ford Desired Real Estate Inc., and when his long-time friend Ruth Kimble suggested the building be turned into a community center, Ford said he jumped at the opportunity.
“We have a huge unemployment rate for the youth,” Ford said. “We have a huge unemployment rate for veterans. We have a problem with affordable housing, and so what we need to do is build more places that provide opportunities for families.”
Since 1998, the Austin Child Care Providers Network has focused on educating and training child care providers in under-served communities.
And now more than ever, expansion within the community is necessary, said Kimble, the network’s president and founder.
“We’ve kind of run out of space here,” Kimble said, referring to the building’s current location on West Division.
At capacity, 70 children between the ages of 2 and 12 are served at the current location, Kimble said, and there are 12 staff members on hand.
The new space would provide additional and much-needed office space, an area where staff can be trained for child care, and a space for after-school programs, which Kimble said she’s most excited about.
“They love cooking, they love sewing, so we want to bring back those domesticated fields for the children,” Kimble said. “(The kids) love that because they can take it back to their homes and help their parents out.”
The next step in the process is fundraising, Ford said. Money raised will go directly toward construction, programming, equipment and furniture.
Donations to pay for the renovations have already come in from Home Depot, Ford said.
And with help from volunteers at The Mission Continues, an organization that deploys veterans into the community for service, the project should be completed before the end of the year, Kimble said.
Lucas Waldron, platoon leader at The Mission Continues, headed the first day of renovations back in January. He said the project is important because it provides benefits for both the community and veterans.
“The community will eventually gain from having a usable space where families can congregate and really learn from each other and get the services they need,” Waldron said. “And what the veteran gains from doing things in the community is a re-energized purpose in life.”
Ellen Puglisi, volunteer coordinator at Hope Manor I Apartments, 3053 W. Franklin Blvd., a housing development for veterans, said she’s involved because the project has the potential to impact Austin greatly.
“We want to invest in our surrounding communities,” Puglisi said. “Getting veterans that live at Hope Manor out and creating tangible areas children and adults can come to I think will benefit Austin tremendously.”