East Boston Social Centers Receives $1 Million from State to Create New Early Learning Facility

Gov. Charlie Baker announced last week that the East Boston Social Centers (EBSC) will share in $6.5 million in Early Education and Out-of-School Time (EEOST) grant funding awarded to seven organizations to help them renovate childcare facilities that serve low-income children.

The EBSC will use the $1 million grant to create a new early learning program within the former Barnes School. The new center will encompass the ground floor of a multi-use building that contains affordable senior housing on the upper floors. Once complete, the center will have the capacity for 41 new infants and toddler-age children, a majority of whom come from low-income families. 

Managed by the Children’s Investment Fund, CEDAC, and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, EEOST capital improvement grants help non-profit center-based child care programs renovate or build high-quality childcare facilities which serve mostly low-income families.

“We are grateful to the educators and childcare providers statewide who have worked tirelessly to adapt over the last several months as we continue to combat the COVID-19 public health crisis,” said Baker. “Through these grants, we are able to make improvements to child care programs that boost the quality of early education and care and provide families in communities throughout the Commonwealth with the resources necessary for success in the classroom and beyond.”

EBSC Executive Director Justin Pasquariello said the EBSC is excited to have this opportunity to open a beautiful new infant and toddler center in the historic Barnes School.  

“We are particularly excited to be adding space for 8 additional infants as part of this,” said Pasquariello. “In 2019, a Boston Opportunity Agenda report indicated East Boston was among the neighborhoods with the greatest gap between supply of infant early learning spaces, and potential demand.  This has only worsened–as a Boston Opportunity Agenda report released just today showed East Boston has suffered the greatest loss in early learning spaces among all Boston neighborhoods during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are grateful to be able to work to meet this need.”

Pasquariello said the EBSC is also grateful to be able to build a multigenerational partnership with the residents of the Barnes School building, many of whom actively participate in the EBSC’s Active Adults program. 

“Our Active Adult Program Director, Dawn Panos, and Marisa DiPietro have been working to help support Barnes School residents during this pandemic,” he said. “We have heard enthusiasm from residents about opportunities to volunteer with our infants and toddlers when our center opens–and a body of research demonstrates the benefits of multigenerational programming. The safety and wellbeing of residents and the children and families we serve will always be our top priority and the top priority of our partners at the East Boston CDC.  We are closely collaborating with partners to prevent any risk of COVID-19 exposure for residents as we prepare for construction and for when the facility opens–just as we have worked closely to prevent onsite spread of COVID-19 in our programs which have been open since July.”

Pasquariello added that the Social Centers cannot overstate how critically important this EEOST grant is due to EBSC’s multiple facility needs in recent times.  

“We have been serving approximately half the children we serve at our infant and toddler facility at Central Avenue Public Housing in Chelsea and at a pre-school and school age facility in Orient Heights Public Housing,” he explained. “All of those public housing facilities are being demolished and rebuilt, to provide improved housing for residents, within the coming year–and so we at the Social Centers have had to identify facilities into which to relocate all those children, without disruption.  This is meeting a critical community need, as ~90% of the children we serve come to us with vouchers or subsidies based on family income or other family needs.”

In the end Pasquariello said it took many people to make a grant of this magnitude possible. 

“I want to thank the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Governor Baker, the Department of Early Education and Care, Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, the Children’s Investment Fund and CEDAC, Theresa Jordan, Bree Horwitz and Kira Taj, for their work to make these critically needed funds available for the early education and school age field,” said Pasquariello. “East Boston’s own Tanya Hahnel has led us in this work, bringing a variety of expertise that we needed and leading the grant writing.  Many members of our team at the Social Centers worked on the plans, budget, grant writing, attachments, site visit and more to make this possible; they include Cerlyn Cantave, Marisa DiPietro, David Cali, Gloria DeVine, Lisa Melara, Michele D’Ambrosio, Krysten Buccella, and others.  Our elected officials have been instrumental in supporting this project and making this work possible–and have written letters of support.  We couldn’t have done this without the support of Rep. Katherine Clark, Mayor Walsh, Sen. Boncore, Rep. Madaro, and Councilor Edwards.  The East Boston CDC is making this beautiful space available and wrote a letter of support, as did the Boston Opportunity Agenda, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, Neighborhood Villages, and the Franklin Square House Foundation. “

The EEOST grants are financed through the state’s capital budget and provide matching funds that leverage private investment. The $6.5 million awarded by the Baker-Polito Administration for the FY20 EEOST grants will leverage more than $36 million in additional financing to improve learning environments for nearly 900 children.

“The current public health crisis underscores the need for safe learning environments that support the healthy growth and development of all children,” said Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. “We are thrilled to be able to support these seven programs across the Commonwealth as they turn their projects into reality.”

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