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Community Children's Center Prepares and Enteraining Fundraiser!

Although interior demolition at the future home of the Community Children’s Center’s child care support hub is now complete, the work to open the facility is still far from done.

The next big step will be renovation efforts to turn what’s now largely a clean slate at 346 Maine St. into the Early Childhood Community Center. The facility will eventually provide daytime, overnight and weekend care for infants and toddlers, along with other services intended to strengthen the community’s child care system as a whole.

But the process of turning the vibrant classroom and play spaces depicted in design renderings into a reality has yet to begin. That’s because the nonprofit is waiting on further funding assistance to be made available. In the meantime, it plans to supplement any future grant funds through its first-ever community fundraising event: “Community Quest! A Scavenger Hunt.”

Will Averill, the nonprofit’s director of communications and Development, recently told the Journal-World more about the new event. Averill joined the nonprofit in his role toward the end of last year, after serving as director of communications for The Willow Domestic Violence Center. He and Executive Director Kim Polson soon began brainstorming ways to generate more community support, and an event like this one felt like a good way to stand out from the crowd.

“We’re thinking of ideas of what could be fun and family-oriented, because so many of the charity fundraisers you see are galas and things in the evenings; they’re not necessarily specifically for families,” Averill said. “We thought this would be a fun way to incorporate families.”

The event is set for Saturday, July 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at locations around downtown Lawrence and the University of Kansas campus, ending at the Cider Gallery, 810 Pennsylvania St. As the name implies, the fundraiser is a scavenger hunt that tasks teams of participants with following clues that point them toward goals like gathering photos and items from around town and completing challenges.

Tickets are on sale now — a $40 donation pays for one “family pass” for up to six people to participate in the hunt, or to sponsor a pass for a family that may wish to participate but doesn’t have the means to pay for a ticket. Averill said ticket sales would remain open until Friday, but he doesn’t anticipate placing a cap on participants until the day of the event.

“…You don’t necessarily have to be a traditional family (to participate),” Averill added. “I use ‘family’ really loosely. Like friends, relatives, whoever your family is made up of. And we also welcome kids of all ages, so I’m hoping that some folks, even if they don’t necessarily have little ones, will still be young enough at heart to get a team together.”

The space at 346 Maine St. has already seen an influx of cash, even without a community fundraising campaign or additional money coming from the state. In large part, that’s due to a more than $3.6 million American Rescue Plan Act fund allocation doled out by Douglas County leaders last year, which helped the Community Children’s Center purchase the property and get the interior cleared out for future renovations.

Demolition inside 346 Maine St. is complete, but the Community Children’s Center is now waiting for funding to being renovating the now vacant space.

Both Averill and Polson said the goal is still for a portion of the new facility to be ready to go in the first half of 2024, but it’s hard to pin down a definitive timeline on that front for the moment.

Polson said she’s been pleased that the nonprofit has been granted a significant amount of funding from various avenues at the state level this year, including through the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and the Kansas Department for Children and Families. But most of those funds have been related to programming and operations. For now, Polson said the Community Children’s Center continues to wait on a “significant” capital grant that should be awarded before the end of summer.

“We had hoped that all of those capital dollars would’ve been in place by July, but now we’re in a position where we’re waiting still on those,” Polson said. “We are very confident that we’ll have support from the state in some capacity for capital funds, but again, it’s the unknown that we’re working with right now. It makes it very difficult for us to pinpoint exactly what we need from the community as a capital investment.”

At the very least, the agency knows there will be some need for next weekend’s fundraising event and some future community-based funding support, Polson said; a clearer picture on that front should have emerged by Labor Day.

Polson said the process was still sticking relatively close to the agency’s anticipated timeline regardless, especially if the funding puzzle pieces start falling into place. The hope, for now, is that renovations start before the end of the calendar year or even sooner, and they’ll take about nine months to complete throughout the entire building.

“I’m still hopeful for the first half (of 2024), but I’m going to give ourselves a little bit of grace just in case of these things we can’t control,” Polson said.

The nonprofit hasn’t just been sitting idly while demolition efforts were underway, nor does it plan to while its funding needs come into clearer view. During the second quarter of 2023, the agency has served 132 families — about half of them new — across all of its services. That includes nearly 100 appointments at the Community Children’s Center’s clothing closet, where the agency gave out nearly 2,400 clothing items, and a few dozen family support visits.

New efforts along those lines, such as a planned incubator program to help new child care providers get off the ground, go “way beyond a building,” Polson said. In fact, she expects some of that programming will be able to launch before renovations are even complete — and some of it, clearly, is already happening.

This rendering shows what one of the playrooms at 346 Maine St. should look like once renovated.

Next, Polson said the operational funding the agency has received will be put to use to hire staff to help implement some of the innovative program opportunities that don’t require the finished child care facility to get started. She said the impact of the Early Childhood Community Center project was already being felt across the community.

“Every month or so, we’re implementing something new as we begin to expand our staff and have more operational dollars and more outreach,” Polson said “…That’s one of the great things — we’re not just sitting here waiting for a building to be renovated. We have so many opportunities and programs that extend beyond a building that we are able to implement those in very strategic ways across our county without necessarily having to have a building completed in order to have those programs be successful.”

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