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How a grant-funded renovation brightened one early childhood center


Imani Mixon

Imani Mixon

Before you even meet a student at Detroit’s LACC Childcare Academy, you are greeted with smiles. Some of the students’ smiling faces are printed on bright green rugs that line the hallways and give a glimpse of the kind of joy you will encounter when you step over the threshold into the classrooms.

If you happen to arrive during nap time, you’ll experience a bit of tranquil silence … and then peals of cheerful laughter as afternoon snacks are passed out. The teachers seem happy, too. They’ve got spacious classrooms filled to the brim with toys and learning materials for their students. They’ve got their own breakroom for meals and meetups.

LACC offers 24-hour childcare and there is always a nurse on call. The center partners with programs including Matrix Human Services, Great Start to Quality and Institute of Supportive Services to ensure that their students and parents receive the care and attention they need. They work with local companies including Detroit Manufacturing Systems, Chrysler and a host of hospitals to care for their employees’ children. The 13,000-square-foot facility has year-round enrollment and currently houses 149 students and 28 teachers.

COMMENTARY: State program is a leap forward for early childhood facilities and those they serve

The operator of childcare center, a young black woman, is seen in the play room with desks and play areas behind her.
LACC operator Laurie Clark-Horton says that Learning Spaces has been instrumental in helping with the “inner and outer of the building, and we are truly grateful.” (Photo by Darrel Ellis for The Kresge Foundation)

And now it boasts exactly the kind of uplifting environment Laurie Clark-Horton envisioned in 2020 when she applied for an IFF Learning Spaces grant. She had already been operating her childcare business for 19 years and her LACC Childcare Academy on Wyoming on the city’s west side was in need of some structural attention.

Under the program, providers could apply for grants from $5,000 to $15,000 to cover the cost of real estate consulting, minor repairs to their facility or other facility-related needs. Assistance ranged from fixing the lighting in a few classrooms to finding a permanent home after leasing for years. Nonprofits and home-based caregivers were eligible provided they have a minimum score of three stars in Great Start to Quality, Michigan’s childcare rating system.

The effort was initially funded by The Kresge Foundation – later joined by W.K. Kellogg Foundation, PNC Foundation, the M.M. Fisher Foundation and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

“IFF came along, and they immediately started telling me what I could do and how I could apply for certain things, and, of course, I took advantage to help the children and our staff even. IFF has been very instrumental in helping LACC with the inner and outer environment of the building and we are truly grateful. It’s been incredible how they’ve helped,” says Clark-Horton.

According to Clark-Horton, adding windows in the front, restoring the front of the building, reconstructing classrooms and updating the floors have made a big difference for the look and feel of her childcare facility.

“The renovation period was very smooth. The parents love it. My enrollment rate jumped up through the roof. They appreciate not only the curriculum being quality, but the facility being quality,” says Clark-Horton.

IFF has worked closely with architectural firm John Tagle and Associates since 2018 for nearly a dozen early learning center projects. Although these projects are a departure from their typical projects with churches and nonprofit spaces, they bring their intentional and innovative design thinking skills into each challenge.

“There are lots of intangibles that make a space work. A lot of that has to do with the leadership of the individual facilities. They become our partners through that process to create spaces that are nurturing, open, convenient, and hopefully augmenting those intangibles and creating a better overall experience for both the client and the end user,” says Ronald Day, senior project architect at John Tagle Associates.

In addition to the intangibles, there are tangible changes that visitors feel when you enter an early childcare center that has received updates through an IFF grant. The facilities are brighter and more spacious. Each classroom is catered to the needs of the children and teachers who fill them.

“I think there’s just such a huge benefit to being able to show a prospective client that this is the reality of the next level of work that you’re trying to achieve. It’s also nice being connected with a group of clientele, who are working to care for Detroit’s next generation,” says Day.

Imani Mixon is a guest writer. She specializes in long-form storytelling “inspired by everyday griots who bear witness to their surroundings and report it back out.”