Early education program aims to give disadvantaged children running start before kindergarten

What's the secret to giving disadvantaged kids a fighting chance? Start them young, educate them early.

Single mom Shameka Jones says an early childhood program helped her when she needed it the most.

With two young children, Jones was trying to get herself through school. Today, she credits California Hospital's Hope Street Margolis Family Center for helping her graduate from a culinary arts program at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.

"It's not just a child care center...it's an educational center, it's a family," she said.

The Margolis Family Center model started as a research project nearly 30 years ago. Since then, the program has served some 2,500 families each year. This month, the program expanded and added a fourth licensed early education facility to its network. It's called the Nest.

"The idea is to get them before they start kindergarten so that they take off with a running start," said the center's Juan Carlos Eresma.

The Nest will provide free early childhood education to as many as 32 children, ages 18 months to 3 years. All the children will be from surrounding underserved communities with the highest need: those hit hardest by the pandemic and job losses.

Many of the families are either homeless or on the verge.

"This program will give you the resources that you need. Even if they don't have a resource at their facility, they're going to find something for you regardless. This program is that good," Jones said.

With a proven track record, the Margolis Family Center secured the pro bono services of local designers and builders to make the Nest possible.

"We want this to be a refuge from the outside where kids can really spread their wings and slowly take risk and learn their environment and autonomous, healthy human beings," said Aram Guzman, project manager with Perkins and Will.

The solution here: a public-private partnership helping to change lives.

"The research shows that if we start earlier with children, they're more likely to go further in school and do better in school, but it's just a drop in the bucket. You know, there's still a lot more work and alot more children to reach," Eresma said.

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