Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Urban League gives New Orleans youth a ‘Head Start’

6th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Local officials, business leaders and community activists turned out in large numbers July 28 to cut the ribbon on a new multi-million dollar Head Start center in the city’s now-redeveloping Desire neighborhood. The 11,000-square-foot facility will serve more than 60 children and is the brainchild of area Urban League activists who made construction of what will be New Orleans’ latest early childhood education center a reality by garnering strong support from local government agencies and corporate sponsors.

The unveiling of the Clarence L. Barney center drew dozens of Ninth Ward, and nearby, families who received preparedness and wellness kits assembled by an army of Urban League volunteers as part of the organization’s various community service and outreach efforts that were held in conjunction with its national conference in New Orleans last week.

“This neighborhood, as it is being built, is being saved at the same time,” said Nolan Rollins, head of the local Urban League. “This is a new act and a transformation. It will produce a transition for the lives of children and families. Now we have abundance where we once had desire.”

National Urban League president, Marc Morial, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony while in New Orleans for the group’s conference, prefaced his remarks by saying, “It’s good to be in Desire,” adding, “We all remember the Desire that was once here,” making a reference to the once crime-laden housing development in the neighborhood’s midst.

Morial had special words for the children who will soon occupy the building, named for a New Orleans civil rights activist and former local Urban League president for three decades. “This is your facility; keep it nice; love it; treasure it; honor and respect it. It does not belong to somebody else; it belongs to the people of this neighborhood. It belongs to you.”

Several corporations helped to finance the building’s construction and their executives were on hand for its grand opening.

Machelle Williams, who spearheads diversity programming for the German automaker Volks­wagen, said her firm has a “vision to be a well-known company that has a commitment to service.” She described community outreach as an opportunity that “allows us to stretch our arms wider,” adding, that while recipients of the company’s largess often thank Volkswagen for its charitable contributions “it is I who want to say thank you.”

John Gremer, director of community affairs for the Walgreens pharmacy chain, told those assembled that while he is a Chicago native he feels “at home” in New Orleans and is proud that the new Head Start building is a part of Walgreens’ overall $100 million commitment to community development.

Other support organizations include New Orleans-based Liberty Bank, the nonprofit group Total Community Action, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s coastal and environmental affairs unit.

Head Start, one of the largest anti-poverty programs in America, began in the mid-1960s as a summer enrichment program for low-income children, but has expanded to include parental involvement, nutrition and healthcare services.

The New Orleans area is home to more than three dozen Head Start locations.

This article was originally published in the August 6, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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