Portsmouth Community Center Seeking Funds to Add Head Start – The Virginian-Pilot Program

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PORTSMOUTH – The space at the back of the Wesley Community Services Center in Portsmouth is outdated – it still uses oil heating.

Executive Director Renyatta Banks plans to turn it into a new facility to house a Head Start program ready to accept students in the fall. Banks said this new program will hopefully fill a gap in the services available at the center at 1701 Elm Ave.

The space remains cluttered with what Banks described as “stuff” from before he took office, but once plans are approved and structural work is complete, two new classrooms will be ready to host the program. Already, Banks said the grants have covered about $700,000 to help install an HVAC system and make other necessary structural changes. However, another $100,000 is needed, and the Wesley Center has plans for fundraisers.

Head Start is a federal program to promote pre-kindergarten school readiness for children, with an emphasis on early learning, health, and overall well-being. The focus is on social skills, educational foundations and more to prepare young children for success in school. The new classrooms are expected to accommodate 18 students each.

“The great thing is that when the kids learn, the parents will be here at Wesley,” Banks said. “Probably doing GED skills or just training for different things. We try to empower the whole family.

The center is working with the Hampton Roads Community Action Program (HRCAP) to launch the program. Shikee Franklin, director of Head Start/Early Head Start, described it as a “high quality preschool program” offered free to families. The program also connects parents to community colleges and trade schools, and promotes life skills such as financial literacy and stress management.

“The Head Start program helps them achieve whatever goals they set for themselves,” Franklin said.

The center is holding a fundraiser Saturday at Grove Church. The WE Worship Concert will feature artists such as the Boys Choir of Hampton Roads, award-winning gospel singer Jekalyn Carr, Patrick Riddick of Netflix’s “Voices of Fire” and more. Profits will go towards the renovation of the establishment; tickets can be purchased in line. Another larger fundraiser is planned for September.

In addition to services such as a community closet and food pantry, the center hosts a GED prep program and a free virtual tutoring program that began during the pandemic, making it a hub of educational resources for community.

Overall, Banks estimates the center serves about 500 people each month with its various services.

“We are fighting to bring the family together,” Franklin said. “We are fighting for a clean and safe community for the people of Portsmouth we serve.”

Kelsey Kendall, [email protected]

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