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MRDC expands Head Start, considers community center

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The Maryland Rural Development Corporation is looking to expand the building to bring in 21 children in the Head Start Program. Years down the road, The Paris Foundation is looking to build on the lot next door to the center

ELKTON — The Maryland Rural Development Corporation has its eyes set on the future, starting with expanding its class size but with the hope that a community center will come years down the road.

The first phase of expansion includes turning storage space, offices and the conference room in the MRDC into three classrooms. That will allow the growth in class size in the Head Start programs, child development and family support services to low-income families with children under 3 years old and pregnant women.

Costs would be covered by the Office of Head Start federal grants, with $640,000 in operating grant and $500,000 in construction grant. The project also includes secure entrances on both wings of the building, as well as using a portable classroom for office space and a conference room.

By shuffling space around, the MRDC will be able to bring 21 children in the home-based program to the center for Head Start. That will allow parents to pursue work or educational opportunities.

Tammy Duff, deputy director of MRDC, explained to town officials that the hope is it would naturally lead to building a community center next door. The Paris Foundation, an Elkton nonprofit that feeds and aids the homeless or those in need, would run it.

“This is the start of what we envision as the future of the Hollingsworth Manor community needs,” she told the town board on Wednesday night. “A true community center would link our two entities together, with adult services on one side, child services on the other and they meet in the middle.”

Since MRDC has leased the property from the town, it’s gradually become a gathering space for several service organizations like the Paris Foundation and Youth Empowerment Source. But the hope is that the Paris Foundation could meet some of its frequent clients in the Hollingsworth Manor and Landing Lane areas.

“We already have the meals and the bible services, but I’d like to add more strength to our services, with children and youth support activities,” Mike Brandon, the executive director of the Paris Foundation, told the Whig. “We envision this partnership to be working side by side as neighbors and connecting our resources.”

Elkton officials are already prepping for two community centers in the near future. The neighborhood community center is taking shape on Booth Street, and the town is preparing to buy the Elkton LTC James Victor McCool Armory. But Brandon stressed the vision is to continue its existing services as well as adding arts program, compared to the athletics and events-focused programs the town is looking to cultivate with the Booth Street center and the armory.

“Our focus is on religious and charity, so we would also serve as a point of contact with other agencies. To work toward a real end of homelessness and to prevent it, the best place to start is where the greatest need is,” he said.

However, all these plans are years away and heavily dependent on capital funding. The Paris Foundation still has two years on its lease on its North Bridge Street location, and MRDC officials suggested a possible four year target for completion.

Since the MRDC is leasing the Head Start Center from the town for $1, the town Elkton agreed to the classroom improvements with the Elkton Building and Zoning Department’s oversight.

Looking to the future, MRDC Executive Director Chris Benzing said that he was excited to embrace the Paris Foundation as a partner, when the time came with the community center.

“When we met with our respective boards, we walked through it and it was almost eerie. Their plans are our plans,” he said. “We’d like to do it next Tuesday, but we need to continue with the funding first.”

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