Cape center may have to stop after-school program

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Denise Lincoln approached her staff with a "scrambled brain and broken heart" Wednesday as she informed workers the Family Resource Center might have to discontinue its after-school program.

On Tuesday, state fire and sanitation workers inspected the building, finding several issues of noncompliance, including missing sprinkler heads, a leaky basement and furnaces that need to be better encapsulated. The inspection was a result of the center discovering it might need a license to operate. For six years the center has served about 15 students daily through a free after-school program at 1202 S. Sprigg St.

"If it ain't safe, I don't want my grandbaby here," said Pat King, a part-time employee in charge of community development. "But the resource center is doing wonders."

Repairs to the structurally sound but deteriorating building would be costly, and finding a place to relocate would be difficult.

The ultimate decision will fall on the center's board of directors. Late Wednesday, Lincoln was trying to arrange a meeting with them, intended to be today.

"I realize the building is old and needs work, but as far as where to go from here I'm not sure," said Eldon Nattier, a board member. He was present at the inspection and said bringing the 67-year-old building into compliance is only a "matter of time and money."

Lincoln is appealing to the state's Department of Health and Senior Services to exempt the center from needing an operating license. The center can remain open during the appeal process, she said.

On Wednesday, children did their homework, read books and played Connect Four with volunteers from Southeast Missouri State University. Most of the children arrived via bus from Jefferson Elementary or Central Middle School.

"If the opportunity to serve is taken away, we have really failed South Cape one more time," Nattier said.

Even if the center decides to end its student services, programs for adults could continue because they are not subject to the same requirements, Lincoln said. Such adult programs include parent education sessions and a weekly Senior Lunch and Learn.

Lincoln's hope is the program will be able to operate through the end of the school year, giving the center through August to make major changes. The center's summer school program does not require a license for operation.

"Being an autonomous nonprofit doesn't make a difference," she said. The center is funded mainly through state grants and the United Way.

Staff members were made aware they might need a license after Lincoln applied for a state grant for the center's summer camp, which required her to list whether the center had a license or was exempt. Schools and most churches are exempt from having to have day-care center licenses.

Cindy Hudson, a section administrator for the state's Department of Health and Senior Services, said the department "may not always know there are providers out there."

The idea for the center began in 1995, the brainchild of a Community Caring Council task force that saw a need to consolidate services for high-need families on the south side. The center first opened in 2000 at 1000 S. Sprigg St. but moved to the former Assembly of God Church down the road in 2001, Lincoln said.

The building still shows hints of its former use. Upstairs, in the former sanctuary, four pews remain. Despite the floor having a significant downward slant, students use the space for exercise lessons, pool table games and for theater shows.

Much of the program's activities are held in the basement, in a central room with cracked brown and tan tile and baseboards discolored by recent floods.

"It's a long-loved and worn-out building. ... My dream is not to come in and save the world, but to inspire the neighborhood to meet the needs of its own kids," Lincoln said.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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