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June 19, 2013

 

Family center facing closure

Agency that helps parents loses state grant, could close as soon as August

FamilyBob Ellis/staff photographer
Amanda Triplett plays with her 10-month-old son while Ahmir VanDee, 2, works on a puzzle at the Family Fun and Resource Center on Main Street Monday afternoon.

By SCOTT CONROE
Contributing Writer

The Family Fun and Resource Center in downtown Cortland has given single mother Kimberly Van Dee a huge boost the pas t nine years.
The city resident has brought her three children to the center at 29 Main St. as often as she can, starting with the birth of her oldest child.
“The kids can interact with other kids, and I can talk to people who have my best interest in mind,” Van Dee said. “The big thing is, it’s safe. A child is not going to be around drugs or abusive behavior.”
The center, funded by New York state and managed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, provides a place for children to play and adults to learn how to be parents. Many parents have supervised visits with their children at the center, through the county Department of Social Services.
But the center will close at the end of August, unless funding is found. The state Office of Children and Family Services declined to award a grant that has paid for the center for 12 years.
“We’ll do everything we can to come up with a plan,” said Eduard Kossmann, Cooperative Extension executive director.
The center’s two staff have been financed by about $55,000 to $59,000 per year from the state’s Family Trust Fund. But Kossmann said he has heard the state shifted its emphasis for funding to urban child care centers and away from rural ones.
Other counties nearby have had funding cut, he said. He hopes to hear more of an explanation from the state this week.
“The letter we received (from the state) said grants were very competitive this year,” he said.
The center is not a day care facility, although it has plenty of toys, books, exercise items and other things to keep a child occupied. It is a drop-in center, so the clientele varies every day.
The center offers lessons for parents on what to expect from young children, to ease their tensions and prevent child abuse, Kossmann said.
Cooperative Extension rents the storefront where the center is located.
Van Dee, 29, said she began bringing her oldest child, Aayliana, 9, to the center on a friend’s recommendation. She now brings all three children, including Cailiyah, 6, and her son Ahmir, 2.
“We have a dinner every other month called Family Talk,” she said. “One time the topic was bullying. I have talked about how to communicate with children.”
Van Dee said the center plans to have a literacy camp for two weeks this summer, to help children with reading and writing.
Julie Triplett, who manages the center with Nancy Hart, said the center provides a place for parents to learn skills before or after their children are removed to foster care by the county. She said if it closes, such visits will have to be conducted at the County Office Building, in a conference room.
Van Dee said some parents come to the center with their children even after getting them back from foster care, when they are not required to be there, because of its atmosphere.
“Nobody is treated differently because they’re from DSS,” she said, meaning parents who have supervised visits with children at the center. “Everyone feels comfortable there.”
She said that since she spends most of her days taking college courses online, the center provides a welcome change of pace for her children and herself.

 

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