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Finding Hope on McGraw Street

McGraw is a street that represents Detroit.  It is full of history, neglect and surprisingly to many, hope.

McGraw Street in Detroit runs from the Wyoming Street on the west to Rosa Parks Blvd. on the east, skirting I-94 along the way.  All of the negative stereotypes about Detroit can be found here, from vacant homes to half demolished factories.  It is a street that at one time passed by the Olympia Arena, former home of the Detroit Red Wings and the Kronk Gym, made famous by legendary boxing trainer Emanuel Steward.

Drive to the corner of McGraw and Larkins and on the north side of the street you will find a renovated convent which is home to Southwest Solutions’ newest Early Learning Communities site.  In partnership with United Way of Southeastern Michigan, they are building the “Our Children Youth and Families Program” to make sure kids in the neighborhood get a jump start on a solid education.  Just by walking into the facility, it is obvious that people are excited about being in the program.

“We’re passionate about this program because we have kids and grandkids.  This is the type of program I want my kids and grandkids to benefit from,” proclaimed Donna Ciclma, director of Our Children Youth and Families program.

The environment Ciclma and her staff have created is very inviting.  They have three rooms where they teach parents, grandparents and daycare providers skills to help their kids learn.  Attached to the training rooms are two early childhood “labs,” where participants can practice the skills they have just learned.

This is not to say that the program is all fun & games.  In order to graduate from the program, each participant must attend 20 training sessions and most participate in one-to-one mentoring.  For those in the mentoring program, a trainer goes to their house to help the participants transfer the lessons from the classroom to their living rooms. A minimum of 50 hours per person is spent on getting people to graduation.

That time and attention is something parents really appreciate.  Martha P. Vega came to Our Children a few months before the program moved to their new facility.  She was looking for an environment where she could learn from other parents how to work with her daughter.  The early results have been surprising.

“I was surprised, my daughter use to hit other kids a lot but she’s completely different with other kids and at home now.  Besides, my daughter has been learning so much more vocabulary aside from colors and things like that,” said Vega through an interpreter.

For Vega, that is a big milestone.  Her native language is Spanish and she was unable to help her daughter learn much English.  To better serve parents like Vega, the program conducts classes in both English and Spanish.  They cover Arabic speakers as well by partnering with another agency.

Since the inception of the Early Learning Communities program with Southwest Solutions, over 4,000 kids have been given a better chance at starting school ready to learn.  Over 1,000 families and caregivers have graduated.  With this new facility now open, there are now opportunities for almost 500 more families to graduate, further proving that there is hope to be found on McGraw Street.

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