If you were lucky enough to get your art into a gallery you’d hope that someone would make an offer on one of your creations. This happened to some local young artists recently, but they weren’t sure if they wanted to sell. You see, the creators of a Jackson Pollock-inspired three-panel piece are still wearing diapers and drinking from sippy cups. The pint-sized artists wielded paint brushes (and in Warholian style, one child left shoe prints after walking over the wet paint) and generated art so terrific that someone (and not even a parent!) offered to pay a hundred and fifty dollars to buy the piece. The budding artists attend Spring Garden Children’s Center on West Berwick Street in Easton. The child care center has toddlers through school -age children immersed in art as part of their summer program that brings area artists, writers and even Nigeria’s Ambassador of Art Ibiyinka Alao into the center. The gallery space at the Sigal Museum is filled with reproductions of Monet’s water lilies; scrap metal sculptures inspired by the late John Chamberlain, soda bottles repurposed into brightly colored fishes, miniature eco- friendly houses sporting roof top gardens, solar panels and wind turbines, beaded jewelry, and the aforementioned three panel piece, all created by kids attending the nationally accredited center.
Here’s the problem: Patricia Hunter, Executive Director, wants to keep the doors to the fifty-year-old non-profit center open but is feeling the sting of the recession. The center has a capacity for one hundred and eleven children but only seventy-five are currently enrolled. She’s had to lay off three staff members in the past few months. Local donor dollars have been reduced and state funding to early care and education has been cut. Ninety-nine percent of kids enrolled are receiving subsidy through Title XX, which is designed to assist working parents with child care costs. Title XX currently has a waiting list of eight months. Newly hired workers come to Hunter’s site to enroll their children in a quality early care center and aren’t able to because they can’t afford the cost of care without some subsidy.
Hunter’s center is only one of two Keystone STARS sites with a four star rating in Northampton County that provides transportation to school age children. This is a benefit to parents who have to be at work prior to the start, and before the end, of a school day. The stars designation rates child care programs on a scale of quality by meeting certain standards. At four stars, Spring Garden Children’s Center has the highest number of stars a center can receive.
Unfortunately the thirty-three passenger school bus that the center uses to make 2000 trips a year has broken down multiple times over the summer. During the school year, the center uses this bus to carry school age children to three of the seven public elementary schools in Easton, two elementary schools in nearby Wilson Borough, as well as St. Jane’s Catholic elementary school. The bus carried kids to baseball games, parks, zoos, science centers and the garden maintained by students at the Easton Area Community Garden over the summer.
Yet despite all these challenges, Hunter, who has been the center’s executive director for twelve of the forty-two years that she’s worked in the early education field, has managed to find staff with degrees in early childhood education willing to work for a low salary and little benefits because they believe in the center’s mission: Providing a warm loving environment for all children to grow and learn, valuing parents as partners and seeking to provide opportunities for children to engage in activities which stimulate social, emotional, physical, and intellectual growth through developmentally appropriate programs.
Judging from the art the kids produce quality early learning is taking place on the South Side of Easton. Kids who attended the center are graduating from high school, going on to college; some are even choosing to enter the early education field and are coming back to the center to do their teaching internships. The center can’t afford a full time marketing director or grant writer, therefore Hunter is charged with these responsibilities as well as handling the myriad tasks necessary to maintain a nationally and state accredited center. Although Hunter and her board are trying to find grants (and the time to write them) and other funding sources to keep the center afloat, it remains to be seen if this institution in Easton will continue to operate.