The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously to award $350,000 in funding to help establish GNV4ALL’s family learning center in East Gainesville, which is set to open this summer.
The BOCC’s one-time award matches a similar $350,000 commitment from Gainesville City Commission, which set aside funds for the project in July 2022.
The county’s contribution is coming from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money that the BOCC hasn’t allotted yet.
The GNV4ALL Empowerment Zone Family Learning Center is set to open on the campus of Metcalfe Elementary School. It will be located in an 8,800-square-foot building that the school district is leasing to the group for free.
James Lawrence, the executive director of GNV4ALL, said in an interview that GNV4ALL is making $125,000 worth of renovations to the building to meet criteria from the Florida Department of Children and Family Services.
Lawrence said the renovations are set to be completed by the first of March and the center is on track to open in June.
"Needless to say, we are excited about the action taken today,” Lawrence said.
The center will serve infants to pre-kindergarten age children and their families, providing childcare and education to the children as well as family support services, including prenatal care, parent coaching, job training and financial training.
Much of the ongoing funds to run the program will come from a mix of state funding and private donations, said Edward Block, who serves as the volunteer chair of the fundraising advisory group for the Family Learning Center.
“To see that the county and the city and the school board are leaning in will really help [GNV4ALL] with not just the initial fundraising efforts, but I think on an ongoing basis,” said Commissioner Ken Cornell, who introduced the motion to make the award
The Family Learning Center was originally located within the Gainesville Empowerment Zone because only approximately 27% of third grade students in the area read at minimum proficiency, Block said. Students who can’t read at proficiency are four times less likely to graduate from high school.
“We are going to make these kids ready for kindergarten,” Block said. “If we are going to get reading proficiency by the third grade, that’s going to blow the 27% numbers out of the water. That’s our goal.”
Lawrence told the BOCC that while the Family Learning Center was set up in the Gainesville Empowerment Zone to address early education deficits in the immediate neighborhoods, the Family Learning Center would consider enrolling students from outside the Empowerment Zone based on income status.
“We really want to change the destinies of too many of our children in low income, primarily African American neighborhoods,” Lawrence said. “They’re just not achieving or reaching their potential. We believe that what we’re gonna do will help them to reach their potential.”
Lawrence said the next step is to hire someone to run the center. The job is posted, and Lawrence said they hope to get someone in place by early spring.
— With reporting from C.J. Gish, associate editor.