March 18, 2014 | Vol. 74 No. 35

Angels' Place: Building parental competence, two generations at a time

When children -- or very young adults -- have children, the outcome can be difficult for all concerned as the young parents often are poorly equipped either to take care of themselves or their little ones.

Angels\' Place in Brookline

For 30 years, Angels' Place has been making a marked difference in that dilemma locally by caring for two generations of students at once -- the parents who need to finish their education and also their preschool children who require care while their parents are at school.

The way it works, parents drop off their children in the morning at Angels' Place, then go to school. The children spend the day in an enriched environment with early childhood education specialists and are picked up by their parents at the end of the day.

Both generations get what they need to move ahead. More good news -- it's free for parents and children who qualify.

Founded in 1984, the non-profit Angels' Place (originally named Mom's House) has three locations -- Brookline, North Side and Swissvale. All of them are housed in upgraded, repurposed older buildings in residential neighborhoods with ample public transportation.

Professionals at the centers are uncommonly well-prepared, and all three Angels' Place sites are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the gold standard for such organizations.

The educational progress of the young parents is closely monitored and supported, as needed, and they agree to participate in parenting classes and other activities to help run the facility.

Specific services provided are:

* Early childhood education and development -- developmentally appropriate curricula combined with opportunities for creative self-expression and active play, to improve school readiness.

* Childcare -- safe, flexible childcare provided by qualified, caring professionals in a structured, stimulating setting with a complete nutrition program Monday through Friday, year-round.

* Individual support and educational counseling -- stimulating support groups, one-on-one counseling, referrals and opportunities to foster the parent's growth, self-development and family stability.

* Career planning and job placement -- mentoring, self-assessment and field experience enable parents to make informed choices about academic plans and career opportunities and to gain a greater understanding of the job market.

* Parenting development -- classes on parenting, nutrition, health, safety, finances, legal rights and other life skills help parents with family development.

* Practical needs -- food, clothing, baby furniture, equipment and other basics are available for families in need.

Operating on the premise of "first-things-first," Angels' Place recognizes that however and wherever the young parents began their journey, the best chance for them and their children going forward is to complete a solid education and become employable. For some parents that means something as basic as completing 10th grade.

There's no cost to clients, but the program is concentrated because eligibility ends when the children are ready for kindergarten, however far along the parent has progressed educationally.

As Angels' Place readies to observe its 30th anniversary, Beth E. Banas, a masters-degreed childhood educator, recently was named executive director of the organization where she's worked since 1989. She is striving to enhance public awareness of the organization and to increase donor and volunteer support.

The Brookline center was the first of the organization's three locations, initially situated in the Brookline Boulevard Presbyterian Church beginning in 1984, but soon moved to today's address, 600 Fordham Avenue.

On a typical day, young parents bring their children to the center early in the morning, then leave to spend their day at school -- wherever that might be, depending on their educational plans. Some go to high school, others to community colleges, and some to career schools.

The children have two nutritious meals and a top-shelf curriculum of pre-school. A small but significant feature of the day has the children all seated together for meals, family-style, passing plates and socializing.

After school, the parents return for their children and for interaction with the professional staff. Then it's back home for a meal, homework and bedtime, getting ready to do it again the next day.

Both the parents and the children are clients of Angels' Place. The parents are treated as adults (even if they're not, chronologically) and it's their job to finish their schooling and to provide a safe, stable home life for the little ones.

Issues of how or why the young parents landed in their circumstances are not a factor. Angels' Place cuts straight to the bottom line -- the children already are here and their needs are real. The only important question is how can their lives and talents best be optimized to end a self-perpetuating cycle of lost opportunity.

To learn more about Angels' Place, visit their website at www.angelsplacepgh.org.

William McCloskey is a writer and editor based in Regent Square. Contact him at pghnews.351@gmail.com.

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