The Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA) Parent Child Center (PCC) located in St. Johnsbury is part of a network of 15 centers in Vermont that help families make sure children get off to a healthy start. Services include playgroups, parent education, parent support, early childhood programs, home visiting, information and referral and community development activities. In addition, the NEKCA PCC offers Community Action Outreach services, that assist the general public with basic needs such as food, housing and fuel assistance. The NEKCA PCC services are available to all community members located in Caledonia and Southern Essex counties.
I spoke with the new Director of the Parent Child Center, Joy Ely, to talk about her first 6 months on the job, and to hear about improvements to the facility that have taken place over the summer. Joy has a human services/counseling background, and experience working with families and children in a variety of settings including alternative education programs, a private catholic school, residential programs, home visiting, and within the public school setting doing outreach/support to childcare centers in the community. Her diverse background was a good match for the multi-faceted work at the Parent Child Center.
What programs do you currently offer and what is your “vision” for the center?
The NEKCA PCC is unique in that the NEKCA “Outreach” services are also located in the same building and assistance is available to all community members, not just families with young children. Currently, there are community playgroups, a Head Start classroom, family education/support programs, job training/coaching, financial literacy classes, as well as assistance with emergency food needs, and fuel and housing assistance. High school diploma support and GED preparation is available for pregnant and parenting teens and young adults.
My vision is that the PCC becomes a “hub” for community members as a first stop to receive assistance from a “specialist” that will help them navigate the systems and forms and guide them in the right direction. I want the center to be a place that “welcomes everyone and anyone”. I’m also hoping to expand in some way to the “outlying” communities that are part of the service area of Caledonia and Southern Essex counties. That will mean developing partnerships with entities that may already have a presence and enhance what is currently being offered.
Tell us about the facility improvements and how they impact the programs and services at the PCC.
The PCC is located in a former elementary school building, and was purchased by the agency a number of years ago. It was in need of some “sprucing up”, so over the summer, a fresh coat of paint was applied to the rooms, and new flooring was laid throughout the building. In addition, the staff rearranged the location of the Head Start classroom to have closer access to the playground, and moved the playgroup to the front of the building to be near the main entrance and the Outreach Services, so parents with young children will have a “child friendly” space to complete applications while their children are safely occupied.
The PCC will be hosting an Open House on August 29th from 3-6 pm and Joy invites the community to visit and learn more about the programs and services, and opportunities to volunteer.
What are some highlights you have experienced since coming on board? Any challenges or surprises you didn’t expect in your new role that you would like to share?
The highlight has been working with the incredible staff that are so passionate about the work they do; it is very inspiring! I look forward to coming to work every day! I enjoy the playgroups, filled with 15-20 families on any given day, and seeing the children attending the Head Start program and talking with their parents.
A challenge has been getting the word out to the community and service providers as to all the services that are available at this one location.
In closing, what is something you would like the community to know about the Parent Child Center that they may not be aware of?
I think the biggest misconception is that community members must meet certain income criteria to be involved. Although that is true for some services, the Center welcomes all individuals and families to come together and participate in activities that provide opportunities to make new friends and develop a connection with others. The NEKCA Parent Child Center has everything from prenatal resources to assistance for senior citizens and can connect people with other agencies to provide even more assistance depending on a person’s needs. The Open House on August 29th will be a great way for the center to highlight everything we have to offer!