With federal help on the way, about 100 educators, government officials, parents, and small children gathered Wednesday morning at what will be the new home for Quincy's Head Start program.
Joining them at the former St. Joseph's School on Pray Street was Yvette Sanchez Fuentes [above, in gray suit], director of the US Office of Head Start, in the first visit that anyone here could recall from a federal Head Start official.
“It’s really a historic moment for us,” said Beth Ann Strollo, executive director of Quincy Community Action Programs Inc. (QCAP), which runs the local Head Start program.
The gathering celebrated a $1 million grant of federal stimulus money for the Quincy program. Combined with $4.5 million in federally subsidized loans through Rockland Trust and several other sources, the grant will enable QCAP to purchase and renovate St. Joseph's, said Bob Coneys, the group's director of finance and administration
The project is expected to create 150 construction jobs, and work is expected to begin in October and be completed by September 2011.
“It’s going to take a lot of people to renovate this building,” said Sanchez Fuentes.
The new headquarters will have 16 classrooms and provide early education and other support services to 240 children and their families, QCAP said. An additional $500,000 grant will allow the program to expand services to an additional 48 children, Coneys said.
QCAC and its Head Start programs provides early education to about 300 pre-school-aged children in six locations, including Braintree High School, Weymouth Naval Base, and Gould Hall in Hull. It also provides support services to parents, according to the group’s materials.
The school, which is expected to be purchased soon from the Archdiocese of Boston for $1.7 million, will need about $4.5 million in renovation, Coneys said. The plan will allow QCAP to consolidate three of the group’s Head Start classroom locations and its business offices into the location off Route 3A.
“It’s going to be convenient for a lot of families,” said Angela Goossen, a family service worker with QCAP for seven years.
Quincy warranted a visit because it stood out among programs across the country, Sanchez Fuentes said.
“They have some really good systems in place,” Sanchez Fuentes said. Adding that safety was a “huge priority,” she said Quincy was also selected because its facilities are among those in need of serious repairs.
“We know across the country there’s infrastructure issues,” she said.
Wednesday's official event, held in the cool basement of St. Joseph’s School and attended by Quincy Mayor Thomas P. Koch [shown with Fuentes and US Representative William Delahunt] and several Quincy elected officials, was a convivial one.
Saying Quincy was as proud of Abigail Adams as it is of her husband John and her son John Quincy, Josephine Shea, a QCAP board member, gave Sanchez Fuentes a book about the life of Abigail Adams as well as an Abigail doll and paperweight.
Outside, children from area Head Start programs planted flowers, played the game “parachute,” and sang to the crowd around Sanchez Fuentes and Delahunt, who frequently referred to his impending retirement from Congress.
“I become less important every day,” Delahunt said.
But the event was important to Beth Sullivan, who dragged her three grandsons to see her granddaughter sing to Sanchez Fuentes and Delahunt. Sullivan said she loves the teachers at her granddaughter’s Head Start program
“They’re so caring,” Sullivan said.
The children also seemed to enjoy the break from routine. Even though many of them will be too old to attend the school in 2011, they were enthusiastic about the project.
“They’re all trying to pick out their own rooms,” Coneys said.
Nationwide, more than 25 million children have passed through the Head Start program since its inception in 1965. In fiscal 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, about 908,000 children were enrolled nationwide, 12,807 of them in Massachusetts, according to the Head Start website.