Whether it is getting children ready for kindergarten or preparing new parents for life with a baby, Neighborhood Centers is committed to helping our neighbors find their place in the community and use their talents to bring them success and happiness.
In the fall of 1973, a small group of parents and residents from the Pheasant Ridge neighborhood (then known as Mark IV Apartments) came together out of concern for their neighborhood. They were troubled by the commonness of vandalism and disputes among neighbors. They decided what they needed was a place where families could come together for gatherings and activities; a place to build community and a sense of accountability to one another. The group approached the apartment management and was granted the use of a three-bedroom apartment to serve as the first Neighborhood Center. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa School of Social Work helped recruit volunteers to organize afterschool and teen programs.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Pheasant Ridge Center grew and our success prompted the Iowa City community to support the addition of a second Neighborhood Center. In 1988, we expanded our efforts through street outreach to the Broadway Street area. Like Pheasant Ridge in 1973, the need for prevention programs was evident in the disproportionate number of child abuse cases, police reports and juveniles on probation. Neighborhood Centers joined forces with Head Start and built a 6,000 square foot facility in 1990. In the 1990s and 2000s, we started work in the mobile home neighborhoods around Johnson County, bringing resources and programs to some of the underserved mobile home parks in that area.
Over the years, Neighborhood Centers' methods have evolved to meet the changing needs of our community. One striking example is in the area of childcare. The welfare reform initiatives of the 1990s created an overwhelming demand for full-day childcare. As more parents moved from welfare to work, we retooled the agency to meet these changing needs. As a measure of the increased demand, it is worth noting that in 1995 we offered 12 childcare spaces in our cooperative - this year we have 152 licensed childcare spaces. We are also very proud of the quality of our early childhood programs. The agency is accredited by National Association for the Education of the Young Child (NAEYC).
Our family-centered and community-based approach provides a long-term commitment to improving the quality of life for families in the neighborhoods we serve. By offering a consistent and stable neighborhood presence, we are able to provide a balanced mixture of programs and activities that build community, teach new skills and provide advocacy and support for families. This balance also allows us to facilitate relationships between families and offers the necessary support before a crisis erupts. Each program or service creates a layer that is individually important, but collectively creates a context that allows families to enhance their quality of life and achieve a sustainable level of self-sufficiency and success.