Diminished Head Start to share space at Oak Park's Hephzibah

Program criticized for inaction that will cut number of program participants in half

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By Megan Dooley

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Head Start child care program has found a new place to call home. But local early childhood advocates are frustrated that early efforts to relocate the program were unsuccessful and that the final space sharing solution has room for only half of the program's 68 children.

Hephzibah Children's Association Executive Director Mary Anne Brown confirmed that Hephzibah and Head Start have entered a partnership, and the program will be kicking off the school year in its new home at Hephzibah's North Blvd. headquarters sometime in early September.

At an Aug. 23 meeting of the District 97 elementary school board, Superintendent Albert G. Roberts called the program reduction "unconscionable, just unconscionable."

Head Start and Early Head Start are federally funded development programs for children and families in Oak Park, River Forest, and Forest Park. They operate as a program of the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA).

In April, Wednesday Journal reported that rumors had begun to circulate that the building which had long housed Head Start at 44 W. Madison had been sold. The building had been owned by Park National Bank. When that bank was taken over by federal authorities, the Head Start building was not part of the transfer of assets to US Bank and eventually it was put up for auction by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In April, CEDA Vice President Unita Sims said she knew nothing of a sale, but other agencies in the village confirmed that the program was actively looking for a new site.

Sims said Thursday that she cannot yet confirm any details about the new location, but agreed to an interview with Wednesday Journal on Friday afternoon.

Brown said that Hephzibah signed a contract with Head Start last week, and is now hiring staff and working to get the space ready for the kids. The program is slated to restart after arrangements are made to hold an open house for parents of Head Start participants.

"I think that everybody felt bad that Head Start might have to move," Brown said. "So they approached us and we've been working incredibly well with the Head Start staff to make a smooth transition for the children."

It is unclear if there are plans in the works for the 34 children that will be shut out of the program because of size limitations at the new site.

Brown said that because the Hephzibah space formerly housed the organization's kindergarten program, it's a licensed space that is perfect for Head Start. "It's very homey, and I think that the parents will be very excited to share the space with us," she said.

Brown said she thinks the partnership will benefit both parties. "I think it's really exciting for us," she said.

But others aren't as enthusiastic. At the August 23 District 97 meeting the board's vice president Bob Spatz criticized CETA for its inaction. "Head Start will be renting space from Hephzibah, but they only have room for half the kids. And CEDA could have bought that building (on Madison Street) for a song -- $500,000," he said, adding later that that was a ballpark figure for the amount at which the building sold at auction. "This was a failure on the part of CEDA to address something they've known about for years."

Spatz later told Wednesday Journal he is not sure if the sale price is something the Head Start program was in a position to pay. "It may or may not have been a good business decision on their part. I have no idea even what their annual budget for that program is," Spatz said. But he said it seemed like a better alternative than moving and cutting the program size. "It seems like that is a relatively good price for a piece of property on Madison Street that is already built up to your specification," he said.

Jean Lotus contributed to this article.

Reader Comments

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What from Oak Park  

Posted: August 28th, 2011 10:49 PM

Don't you even question why, jo?


Posted: August 28th, 2011 8:21 PM

Why not ask the WJ? You think I work there?

What from Oak Park  

Posted: August 28th, 2011 5:29 PM

Epic is right. I would not have known about the other man missing if it was not for the W.J.. Now I know about this man missing only because of the link Some more equal than others posted. Jo, why didn't W.J. pick up this story? The media is the conduit of information for the masses.


Posted: August 28th, 2011 1:40 PM

I hope you wrote a letter to the editor. that would likely do more good.

Epic Fail WJ from OP  

Posted: August 28th, 2011 1:39 PM

@Jo: Alas, if only the WJ did its job and covered the local news, I would be able to post in response to an actual article, instead of in response to someone else's misplaced post. But, I guess WJ only covers disappearing fathers who need help when it suits their liberal agenda...or maybe when they are the the "right" disappearing father. Sad. And so very typical of what Oak Park has become.


Posted: August 27th, 2011 6:31 PM

You might want to look up the definition of "troll," epic. I think it would include, "posting off-topic comments," in which case you are just as guilty, if not more, than I am.

Epic Failure of WJ from Oak Park  

Posted: August 27th, 2011 1:14 PM

@Jo: I was actually searching this morning. And I've called the police to ask how I can further assist. While it's not the job of the WJ to organize search parties, it IS their job to report the local news. Perhaps if there were even a mention of it in the WJ, others would be aware enough to do something, too. Oh, but then not everyone is the darling of the village...."some more equal than others", indeed. If you don't see the disconnect, then you aren't thinking or you've become a troll.


Posted: August 27th, 2011 10:31 AM

Who's stopping you from starting such an effort? Do you think these things start from people griping on op.com? Really?

WJ, OP Searchers = Epic Fail from Oak Park  

Posted: August 27th, 2011 7:38 AM

@some more equal: My thoughts exactly! The WJ doesn't even have a story on it! Where's the D97 email list being deployed? Where's the police searching the forest preserves? Where are the teams of volunteers looking? Have the hospitals been checked? Apparently you have to be one of the uber-liberal agenda illuminati to be given any attention in Oak Park.

Some more equal than others  

Posted: August 26th, 2011 11:24 PM

Hey, this guy has been missing for a week: http://oakpark.patch.com/articles/police-searching-for-missing-oak-parker This is a guy who really needs some help. Where are all the Good Oak Parkers looking for him? Where are the blaring headlines in the WJ?

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