Learning Center for kids, families to sprout in The Center at the Park

Offering activities geared for children in the same location as programming for seniors could have a positive outcome.

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WALLA WALLA - Long geared as a social spot for older residents, the city's Center at the Park will soon be opening its doors to the area's youngest.

The move will build on momentum that has helped make The Center at the Park and its adjacent Jefferson Park a gathering place for local families as well as seniors - although serving seniors remains the center's main focus.

Early this summer, a room within the center, located at 720 Sprague Ave., will formally open its doors with the goal of reaching families with young children.

The new Learning Center was the project chosen by the Sherwood Trust Community Leadership Program class of 2009.

Members from past leadership classes have brought other notable additions to the community, including murals throughout the Washington Park neighborhood, and the much-used playground equipment at Jefferson Park.

For some time now, The Center at the Park has been the spot for Jefferson Park neighborhood meetings and gatherings. The neighborhood's annual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony is held there, as was a Valentine's Day potluck this year.

Leadership class participant Samantha Bowen said early on, the group of about two dozen community members started discussing projects. The list was quickly narrowed to two choices: a community garden or something geared for early learning.

Offering something to the city's youngest residents and families then emerged as the preferred project.

As the project was developed, the class learned about a room at Center at the Park that was not regularly used. The group felt offering activities geared for children in the same location as programming for seniors would have a positive outcome.

"The idea was an inter-generational space," Bowen said.

Bowen said her leadership class was tasked with renovating and decorating the room so it is ready to serve youngsters. Classes and other programming is being coordinated between now and the center's open house in June.

Annie Capestany, another leadership class member, said in a news release the class picked the project more than a year ago, and spent the winter doing major renovations to the space, including painting, concrete repairs and installing cabinets.

On Saturday, class members put the final touches in the classroom by setting up furniture, toys and supplies geared primarily for preschool ages.

Bowen said her agency, the Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition, has been in touch with local agencies that serve young children to plan programming. Commitment to Community and Children's Home Society have expressed interested in utilizing the space.

Walla Walla Community College's Parent-Child Center is already on board to expand its Tot Spot program to the new Learning Center, with dates and times in the works.

Tot Spot offers enrichment opportunities for children, as well as parenting education. Other agencies may choose to open the space for structured activities, or for families to drop in and let children play and explore on their own. The programming is still being figured and finalized.

Bowen said the new Learning Center, with its location by a park and summer community pool, has the potential to reach many families.

"In the Jefferson Park area, the park is an attraction in itself," Bowen said. "Then we can draw them in to these play groups that have a parenting education component, and it's right there in the neighborhood."

LEARNING CENTER INFORMATION

The new Learning Center, at The Center at the Park, 720 Sprague Ave., will hold an open house for community members June 5 from 2-4 p.m. Activities for children and refreshments will be offered.

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