SEPT. 3, 2010 – Successfully operating a childcare center is a tall order. But successfully operating three of them, while maintaining other community programs and planning a new housing development, is practically herculean.
Northeastern Community Development Corporation (NCDC), which got its start in 1979 as a nonprofit arm of an artisans group called Watermark, has been providing childcare services from the very beginning. “We were originally providing childcare for the artists involved in Watermark,” said Executive Director Maria Garcia. “There was no other childcare in Camden at the time. We’ve gone from 15 children to 200-plus children.”
The focus shifted to include other programs once the organization became a CDC in 1995. “We conducted a needs assessment and found that housing was a big issue in Camden County,” said Garcia. “We found that we needed to expand our childcare services, and that job creation and workforce and entrepreneurial development was needed. We also have a large Hispanic population, so we offer total case management services for the Hispanic community.”
Their Hispanic services center provides English as a Second Language classes, tax programs and clinics, cultural enrichment programs, advocacy, health screenings, Zumba fitness classes, and interpreters and translators.
In addition to the childcare and Hispanic services centers, NCDC has produced two tax credit housing developments with a total of 80 units, and provides housing counseling services to the community.
“We’re currently working with the town of Winfall on a conservation-based housing development,” said Garcia. The green features of the development will include conservative land-use, working with the site’s natural terrain and trees, energy-efficient homes, parks, and structural insulated panels.
Building green is a priority for NCDC, and many of the features of the Winnie Wood center are eco-friendly, including solar panels and water heaters, recycled flooring materials, motion sensors for indoor lighting, programmable thermostats, and a natural playscape playground which uses hills and tree stumps to create play areas.
The childcare centers operated by NCDC are models for the industry. “In the childcare field, everyone here knows NCDC,” said Heather Blackford, Director of the Winnie Wood center. “They have a good reputation and we have very low staff turnover— which is good for the kids and good for the parents—in part because we’re the only childcare centers around here that provide benefits to employees. So we provide a service, but we also help with job creation.” In addition to health insurance, NCDC provides tuition assistance, personal and disability leave, holidays, and an enrollment discount for children of employees.
“I’m lucky to have a strong director in each center,” said Garcia. “They handle the day-to-day management, and we meet as a group every week to go over issues and bring different experiences and perspectives to the table.”
The centers offer the Creative Curriculum – a teaching method where children learn through play, and teachers base lessons on the interests of the children. “You basically saturate their environment with the concepts you’re trying to get across to them,” said Garcia.
It all ties back to a desire to improve the quality of life for members of the community. “We accept social services subsidies to help families afford enrollment, and our rates are below market rate,” said Garcia. “We try to make sure that we serve all aspects of the community.”