ICYMI: Leaders Come Together to Rectify a 20-Year Old Failed Promise to Newark Residents

A State-of-the-art Early Learning Center Now Occupies the Site of the Abandoned Project

Just recently, families, community leaders and public officials celebrated the grand opening of a state-of-the-art early learning center, providing education and care to 198 children from birth to age 5, in the Upper Clinton Hill neighborhood in Newark’s South Ward. 

However, the site of this facility, 30 Demarest Avenue, has a troubling past. 

As noted in a 2005 NYTimes article, this area was designated for a once-promised brand, new University High School. As a result of that designation, and the eminent domain policy that existed at that time, the land was flattened, and residents were displaced. Adding insult to injury, the high school was never built, the area was abandoned and unsafe–leaving residents frustrated. However, in 2018, a new promise to the Clinton Hill neighborhood came to fruition. In a massive effort that included a collaboration between community leaders, the Maher Charitable Foundation and full support from Mayor Ras J. Baraka, the area has been salvaged and turned into a modern, innovative hub for the community’s tiniest learners.

Clinton Hill Early Learning Center from PCK Media on Vimeo.

Speakers at the grand-opening event underscored how this new investment in the Clinton Hill community aligns with their shared commitment to ensuring that every child in Newark gets off to a safe and healthy start in life and that long-time residents of Newark benefit from renewed interest in the city.

 Mayor Ras J. Baraka, had this to say:

“I am proud to see such a modern, beautifully designed facility built in the heart of the Clinton Hill community. This center represents a course correction on a failed promise made decades ago. It represents the effectiveness of collaboration between the community, the Maher Charitable Foundation, Newark City Hall and so many others. And it serves as another testament to the incredible resilience of our City. This early learning center will have an integral role in shaping the minds of our youngest Newark residents, in a caring, safe and creative environment that they deserve. My administration will continue to provide any support needed to ensure the success of this center in the years to come and encourage similar meaningful initiatives to come forth and help move Newark forward.”

The center was designed in collaboration with two experienced early childhood providers, La Casa de Don Pedro, the city’s largest community-based early childhood provider, and Clinton Hill Community & Early Childhood Center (CHCECC), which has operated a high quality early childhood program in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.  Maher Charitable Foundation constructed the center with a nearly $20 million investment. 

M. Brian Maher, Chairman of the Maher Charitable Foundation, paid homage to the community for their their unwavering push to restore their neighborhood:

“We at Maher Charitable Foundation are honored to join together with local community leaders to rectify a failed promise from over 20 years ago. Together, we believed that this center could serve as the physical cornerstone of the neighborhood revitalization program being pursued by Clinton Hill Community Action and others. This facility provides a beautiful, comfortable, and safe place for children to receive quality care and to play and learn. This facility should serve as a model across the state and across the country. I would encourage corporations, foundations and others who have the means to invest in local communities like Clinton Hill to seek out opportunities to do so.”

The new building enables CHECC to expand its PreK services – serving an additional 45 children and moving all 150 children out of temporary classroom units.  It also enables La Casa de Don Pedro to provide much-needed care and education to 48 children from birth to age 3 in the neighborhood. Clinton Hill Community Action, the nonprofit community development organization working to revitalize the neighborhood, will manage the facility and lead the broader effort to showcase the new center as a model for NJ’s expansion of high quality early childhood education.

Longtime resident and now Executive Director of the Clinton Hill Community Early Childhood Center, DeNiqua Matias, focused on the community impact during her remarks: 

“This building is a dream come true. We are now, for the first time, able to serve children and families in a building designed especially for their education and care.  It makes a difference for the children, their families, the teachers and the entire community.”  

The center was designed by Rich Alderiso of DI Architecture Group and built by Donnelly Construction and features:

• 40,000 square feet of learning space 

• 16 classrooms filled with natural light 

• Inner courtyard play area 

• Multipurpose room with 200-person capacity available for community use 

• Family Childcare Hub & Resource Room 

• Commercial kitchen with state of the art equipment

For more information, all media inquiries can be directed to Samantha Gordon, [email protected]

About the Maher Charitable Foundation

Since 2009, the Maher Charitable Foundation has invested in high quality early childhood programs, and advocacy for making those programs more widely accessible, affordable to families, and of higher quality.  In addition to helping to design and underwrite the Pre-K Our Way advocacy initiative that resulted in expansion of New Jersey’s high-quality pre-K to 180 school districts, the Maher Charitable Foundation has funded the expansion and construction of three state-of-the art buildings to provide child care, Early Head Start and pre-K to children birth to age 5 in Newark and Passaic.  The mission of this NJ-based, family foundation is to improve vulnerable children’s life chances by increasing their opportunities to access high quality early childhood education. 

About Clinton Hill Community Action

Clinton Hill Community Action is a community development organization to work with residents and stakeholders to revitalize the neighborhood and improve the quality of life for Newark residents in the Clinton Hill area. The organization takes their cues from residents in setting priorities, understanding the issues, and working together toward solutions. Their mission is to partner with residents to revitalize the Clinton Hill neighborhood, ensure that development is equitable and just, and advocate for what the community needs and deserves.

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