Prioritizing Early Childhood

Affordable childcare, YMCA center and playspace all included in potential Syracuse Children Rising Center

By Timia Cobb 

In nearly three dozen engagement sessions held during COVID, Syracuse South Side residents made it clear that they wanted to prioritize affordable child care and safe spaces for families. 

That input has given life to the Children Rising Center, which organizations like Blueprint 15 have proposed for the corner of South State and East Taylor streets. The center’s backers are still raising money, but the architects and organizations have started to engage community members in an effort to create a space where neighborhood children can grow, learn and play in a safe and fun environment.  

At a community meeting Friday at Dr. King Elementary School, organizers said that the project focuses on three components: Childcare, providing parent and child play space, and creating a YMCA health and wellness space. 

Stephanie Pasquale, director of neighborhood development for the Allyn Family Foundation, said the project is years in the making. It initially started by confirming what the community needed and would best utilize.

“I think we had 32 engagement sessions during COVID,” Pasquale said. “We had hybrid, we had zoom, we had some in person, and we heard that there’s just not that many places and spaces that are trusted for young people to go. And then, as we started looking at child care needs and fun things for littles and parents to engage, this idea for the Children Rising Center came.”

Area resident Quwanka Ellerby, who serves as a Blueprint 15 neighborhood navigator, says she is thrilled the years of discussion about the center seem to be coming to fruition. 

“For our area, we really do not have much for young people; we’re fighting all as one,” Ellerby said. “We have, right now, the only thing for us on this side of the town, right here where I live, we only have the Parks and Rec. And they can only hold so many kids, and then we have the Boys and Girls Club, and they can hold so many kids. So, we need another place where we can hold more than 30 to 25 kids.”

Ellerby wants to see change and better involvement opportunities for the people of her neighborhood, and having their voices, especially young ones, included in the center’s layout is a first step in the right direction. 

“I want to see better things,” Ellerby said. 

Community members exploring draft designs of Blueprint 15’s proposed Children Rising Center on the corner of South State and East Taylor streets. (Photo by Timia Cobb)

Chris Montgomery, chairman for the Board of Commissioners for the Syracuse Housing Authority and a Blueprint 15 board member, also wants to see more interaction from the community about the center.

“For me, learning about the built model and knowing how important it is to have an early childhood learning center, this project is one that is needed in this community,”  Montgomery said.

To solidify more financial support and inform community members about the Rising Center, Blueprint 15, a nonprofit organization working to restore the 15th Ward, hosted an engagement session Friday.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Elisandra Garcia, the project designer and engagement director for the Rising Center, were both at the meeting. 

“We engage with the community first so that we can get some concepts and ideas that will reflect the community here,” Garcia said. “We want to make sure every voice is heard. We understand that the project used to be a great historic part of the Black culture here, and that’s what we’re going to do. We want to give a voice to the people who haven’t had a voice in a while.”

True-to-size landscape models were displayed at the session. Having models shown at the session allowed citizens to pick and choose the layout of the center and prioritize what they believe deserves the most space.

“This phase of the project is, we know what we want to build, we know about what it’s going to cost, but until we know what folks want to see in it and how it’s going to function, we won’t know the final cost,” Pasquale said. 

A closer look at some of the designs. (Photo by Timia Cobb)

Currently, 13,000 square feet of the center is dedicated to high-quality childcare, 15,000 square feet to a playspace and 30,000 square feet to a YMCA health and wellness facility. A basketball court, running track, indoor turf field, esports room and a gym are a few of the recreations being considered for the center’s wellness facility. 

Garcia said while the center will provide more accessible and affordable  childcare, it gives people in the neighborhood a safe space to spend time together as a community

“This kind of becomes a response to all the things that were stripped from this community when the highway came in in the 50s,” Garcia said. “This is not the solution of the entire thing, right, but this project, I think, can start to help not only with street activity, community trust, a safe place for parents and kids to enjoy, and then lastly, really, people retaining their power, taking their power back in their neighborhood.”

They will start designing the center as they continue to get feedback from community members. Garcia said they hope to start construction in 2024.

Timia Cobb’s work for The Stand is supported by the Knight Foundation’s Combatting Disinformation in Communities of Color grant

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