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South Jamaica Head Start finally sees ground breaking

"There were times when we weren't sure we were going to make it," Olivia Banks, the chairwoman of the board of directors for a sister facility several miles away, told Borough President Helen Marshall and the dozen or so others gathered.The problem, those involved with the South Jamaica program said, is that the neighborhood and others like it in the borough are not poor enough for the city to make Queens a priority in creating more spaces for Head Start students, leaving it listed below Brooklyn and the Bronx for the early childhood development initiative. At the same time, many parents in the borough cannot afford private schooling, the other option for children younger than five years of age."It's not fair," said Olga Williams, the Head Start administrative director for Human Resources Center of St. Albans, which will run the South Jamaica facility. "This was a struggle to get the slots and keep the funding."Williams and others persisted, however, because they had done an assessment of the community and discovered a need for more seats. The nearest Head Start program, run by another provider, is half a mile away, while the Human Resource Center's other two programs are at Linden Boulevard and Merrick Boulevard, a mile and a half away, and on Farmers Boulevard, two miles away."That's quite a long distance for parents to walk kids to schools," said Williams, who began her involvement with Head Start as a parent. On the larger scale, she said Queens may not be as poor overall as Brooklyn or the Bronx, but its diversity made Head Start a necessity."Queen is a mixed community with mixed problems," she said. Thanks to interventions by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), the Human Resource Center kept the funding, which is provided by the federal government. The center, which is part of the St. Albans Congregational Church, bought a vacant building next to the South Jamaica Library Branch at 117-03 Sutphin Blvd. at a city auction for $112,000. Construction on a 22,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in a year and a half.Unlike other Head Start centers, which usually operate for shorter hours with children who are at least two years old, the South Jamaica facility will take all youngsters 5 and under and provide all-day service, making up for the lack of affordable child care. It will also offer general equivalency degree classes and job training for single mothers."Head Start plays such an important role in the community," Williams said. But she knows other proposed centers in Queens are struggling for support."We were extremely fortunate to get the grant," she said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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