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Marcy Newberry closing, 230 children losing Head Start seats

The 130-year-old Marcy Newberry Association will close its doors Friday, leaving 230 children without Early Head Start and Head Start classes, and 52 staff members without jobs.

Executive Director Benjamin Kendrick says financial woes caused the closing. He said the funding levels provided by early childhood programs are “just not enough to maintain operations.”

To make ends meet, the program used blended funding – a common strategy where children are not enrolled unless they meet the eligibility criteria for both an early childhood education program (like Head Start or Early Head Start, or state early childhood education programs) plus state child care assistance. 

But the programs have eligibility criteria that are different, sometimes even mutually exclusive. Early Head Start, Head Start and state preschool programs are geared toward the neediest families; child care assistance requires parents to be either employed or in school. 

Kendrick says Marcy Newberry struggled to find children who qualified for both – making it hard to keep classes full. 

The agency's problems filling seats became even more acute as the state began turning more families away from child care assistance due to funding cuts. 

Low enrollment dealt the final financial blows.

City to step in

Matt Smith, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Support Services, says that the city will be working with the agency to track down each child affected by the closure, and offer them a choice of placements in year-round Head Start programs, or those in local schools.

He says the Head Start seats, rather than being lost in the agency’s closure, will follow children to the programs where they end up.

But Kathy Jackson, an assistant infant-toddler teacher at the agency’s Marcy Center location in North Lawndale, says that many parents don’t plan to seek alternative arrangements.

Since it’s summer, she says, many have told her they plan to leave children with older siblings, or send them to Park District camps.

Ken Campbell, whose 3-year-old and 4-year-old grandchildren attended the center’s Fosco Park location on the Near West Side, says he doesn’t know yet where his youngsters will end up.

“Educationally it’s in very poor tatse that we have so few options,” he says. “With that foundation being taken away, it does more damage to the community, to the families, to society as a whole.”

He adds: “This should be number one on the agenda, that the babies need to be educated.”

Blended funding common, but some children left out

Brynn Seibert, director of the child care and early learning division of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, says Chicago’s Head Start spending “lags far behind the national average,” making it hard for programs to make ends meet without blended funding.

The city spends an average of $5,331 per child, she said, compared to a national average of $7,976, and $11,271 a year in New York City.

But, she says, the result is unfair. “No family should be turned away from Head Start because their children don’t qualify for other funding streams,” Seibert says.

Maria Whelan, president and CEO of Illinois Action for Children, says that it’s become increasingly difficult for early childhood agencies to juggle funding streams that “are attached to different outcomes, different objectives and different criteria.”

“When you have to dip each child into every funding stream to make it work, it’s hard to do,” she says. "It's a huge loss."

Agency had struggled for months

In addition to the Marcy Center location in North Lawndale, the agency had one location in Austin and two on the Near West Side. Three of the sites offered Early Head Start and preschool services; one had programs for older children.

Though staffers received no official word of the closure until letters to parents were sent out Wednesday of this week, they sensed the agency would shut down, and began telling parents to seek other options.

Jackson says the closure came after months of problems.

First came a pay cut in December, then another in February -- cuts so large they left even some decade-long staff earning minimum wage.  

Then, in April, the agency began falling behind on paychecks to all staff, including state-certified preschool teachers paid for with CPS funds.

“People were getting evicted from their homes, overdraft fees, late charges, all kinds of things because of the financial situation,” Jackson says.

The missing pay led some staff to leave; without money to pay for transportation, others could not show up for work (though some were offered $35 for gas money to tide them over).

As staff were unable to come to work, the centers were forced to turn away some parents because there was not enough staff to watch over children enrolled in programs.

“Some of the parents were angry that they had paid (child care) copayments and now, there’s no teachers,” Jackson says. “We were turning them around at the door.”

The letters to parents explaining the closure, Jackson said, blamed staff absenteeism and resignation for the closing.

This angers her, because many people kept showing up to work despite the problems.

“They were giving us half a check,” she says. “We still came.” 

9 comments

Roberta Wheatley wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Marcy Newberry closing

It is an unfortunate thing that an agency serving as a positive force in Chicago is closing due to lack of funding. Shame on the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois for letting this happen. The work done and the dedication of the staff at Marcy locations speaks volumes on what it means to care. The happy and safe children are now at risk. All 230 of them need a new safe haven and supervision during the day, and as for the staff, what about them, not to mention the stress on parents who are asking themselves, "What now?". When we have money to throw big parties like the celebration today, why not divert such money help those who are in need? Mayor Emmanuel, Governor Quinn, when will your priorities get straightened out? Education gets its foundation from programs such as Head Start. We need to keep such programs thriving to improve our schools.

Faye Jones wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Another one bites the dust

As we have seen too many times over another Head Start program has folded that served so many children and families. Child Care Professionals have lost their jobs because of poor decision making which they had no control over. It appears as if education is not a priority in this country. We learn in school that children who get an early education have a better change to succeed in life. They have better social skills, math skills, language and literacy skills and critical thinking skills. What's going to happen now? These poor children are going to be caught up in the achievement gap, that's so sad. Some people put so much money into seeing people excel in sports, why not put some of that money into educating our young.

Yuvonne Bryant-Holmes wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Who will speak up

I look around this beautiful city and I see all of the wonderful work that's being done then I go toward 16th and Springfield where Marcy Center is located there are no colorful lights there, no pretty flowers, or nice buildings to pose in front of. All of Marcy Newberry's locations were in high poverty areas. What do these children and families have now. They were in walking distance where will they go and how will they get there. The staff at Marcy Newberry worked tirelessly to help keep those doors open. Due to how the laws are being set up the poor will only get poorer. Who will speak up!!!!!!!!! The time is now

Rev. Fred H. Conger wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

Sudden closing of Marcy Newberrty

I was shocked and amazed at the sudden closing of March Newberry
Center. For over fifty years I served as a Pastor in the NIC, attending many events at March Newberry and having a sense of pride that I was a part of a Methodist Church that supported this organization. Then, suddenly, without any prior notice of which I was aware, it is closing. Just what went wrong. Did the NIC stop supporting it so can build more churches that will close in a few years, as the majority of new churches we started in the 50's have done. I am appalled and confused desiring that the leadership of our Conference give explanation.

MyHeartGoesOut wrote 1 year 19 weeks ago

Marcy Newberry Closings

I'm very surprised by the comments of Mr Kendrick in regards to low enrollment. The center where my children were was filled to the max. I'm not sure what requirements were in place for the center to accept kids but, I registered 5 five children & was told as long as there's a space available they could attend. They attended for 1 week. I registered them in April & guess what, no staff person alerted me of possible closures at that time. I think if that were the case, as it's stated in the article then the agency put themselves in a double trouble kind of situation. They never even processed my credit card which I gave them back in April when I registered. There were only about 6 parents who actually paid out of pocket expenses.
After getting the call on Wed evening about the closures, I did a lil research on my own. I learned that the BBB had horrible ratings for this organization mostly because they would not supply a budget or keep private the names of the private donators. They seemed to be sitting on their hands rather than trying to secure donations for the past several years ( at least since 2011). Then I spoke with several staffers who admitted that they ( the Administration) did not have the best interest of the organization as top priority. I learned that rather than marketing for funds, the directors trampled on the highlights of what the children had been doing & decided to use what was in place to put the spot light on children to bring attention to their financial woes back in April.
In my experience a budget & funds are to be secured a full year in advance for the next operating year. It doesn't seem like these things happened in this organization for over 4 years. No budget, No Goals, No Plans, laziness & greed are probably all things that played a factor in taking down this organization. It's so sad, because although I love having my children home and won't miss a beat by them not attending camp, there are so many parents who were in tears, weeping and cussing & fussing about what happened. Many we're even scared they would lose their jobs because they would have to take off work until they could find other arrangements. The kids & the parents suffer from this however, so do many others. The companies that contract with the agency and the staffers also suffer. Who will help these people? I firsthand that 10 staffers at a single location were awarded $150 toward personal finance coaching From Tyrease Dixon of The Debt Free Divas. That doesn't seem like much at first glance but I thought about it. That's $1500! If the one staff person who was evicted from her home, because she had not been paid by the agency for 3 pay periods, would have had an emergency savings she probably could've avoided that situation. I'm so thankful and grateful for people with big hearts.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 5 weeks ago

mna close

feel bad for the kids, but the placed was poorly managed for years and needed to be closed years ago. I guess now parents will have to think about not having more than 2 kids when $ is tight, and teenagers will learn not to have sex and get pregnant

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