MARION

New Marion Youth Center eases after-school child care shortage

Coalition of local organizations launches center, hopes to grow

Devon Goodlove (left) on Friday tries out a new, donated air hockey game with Patty Bazan at the Marion Youth Center, 440 S. 15th St., in Marion. Most of the students at the center are fifth- and sixth-graders from Vernon Middle School, though there are others. The center expects to reach capacity in the next several weeks. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Devon Goodlove (left) on Friday tries out a new, donated air hockey game with Patty Bazan at the Marion Youth Center, 440 S. 15th St., in Marion. Most of the students at the center are fifth- and sixth-graders from Vernon Middle School, though there are others. The center expects to reach capacity in the next several weeks. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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MARION — An after-school care center — stocked with art supplies and video games in brightly painted rooms — that opened this school year could make a dent in the shortage of child care options in Marion.

Dozens of organizations — nonprofits, school districts, businesses and city departments — partnered to create and open the Marion Youth Center, which has space for 50 fifth- and sixth-graders attending Linn-Mar, Marion Independent and St. Joseph schools.

“There’s programs running for older kids and running for younger kids, but there’s not really anything for that middle age,” said Callie Howard, who coordinates the center that opened Sept. 3. “(Students) have said they didn’t do too much before this at all.”

More than 30 students are enrolled at the Marion Youth Center, which is free for families and staffed by the Boys & Girls Club of Cedar Rapids. Howard expects to reach capacity in the coming weeks.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. Monday at the youth center, 440 S. 15th St.

The center is the result of the Marion Youth Coalition, a partnership among 27 organizations that formed about a year ago.

“A community partnership resulting in a new building is really unique,” said Madeline Jarvis, adult services and information manager at the Marion Public Library, who co-chairs the coalition. “That’s why we’ve been really excited to be working toward this.”

In Linn County, about 13,300 child care spaces are available for the county’s 37,890 children younger than 12, according to the Iowa Women’s Foundation. Its count includes child care facilities that are known to the nonprofit — there likely are additional unregulated in-home child care providers.

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The new spaces for fifth- and sixth-graders — who typically are 10 to 12 years old — should dent the county’s shortfall of about 24,550 slots.

Most Marion Youth Center children are from Marion Independent School District’s Vernon Middle School, which serves grades five through eight. Without the center, many students went to the Marion Public Library after school, while others caused disruptions in City Square Park.

“I jokingly call it the Vernon migration,” Jarvis said. “The library is two blocks away. Come to the library at 3:07 p.m. and that’s when the first wave of kids hits.”

A handful of Linn-Mar families also are enrolled at the center, while St. Joseph has donated supplies.

“They’re all our kids, whether Marion or Linn-Mar, it’s our kids and our community,” Linn-Mar Associate Superintendent Nathan Wear said. “We want to be supportive of any of our students that have a need to participate in any type of after-school programming. ... It’s important all of us work together.”

The Marion Youth Coalition already is looking for a larger space for the center and hopes to expand programming. The youth center is starting in space donated by the Marion Independent School District.

“Especially for that fifth- and sixth-grade age, they’re too young really for sports and there aren’t a lot of clubs,” said Michelle Wilson, the coalition’s co-chair and a social worker in the Marion school district. “We hope, when we can get more space, to make it a fifth- through eighth-grade program, with ninth-graders coming back to serve as mentors.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Organizations in the Coalition

• Marion Public Library

• Marion Independent School District

• Linn-Mar Community School District

• Marion Chamber

• Marion Police Department

• Marion Cares

• ISU Extension

• Tanager Place

• Four Oaks

• City of Marion

• Foundation 2

• Parent Education Consortium

• Marion Parks and Recreation

• Young Parents Network

• Area Substance Abuse Council

• Iowa BIG

• Boys and Girls Club

• St. Joseph School

• YMCA

• Boy Scouts

• Girl Scouts

• Sound Mind Therapy

• United Way

• Heart and Solutions

• HD Youth Center

• Youth Port

• Marion School Foundation

Source: Marion Youth Coalition

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