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Center teaches young children skills they'll need in school

The L.A. Times Holiday Campaign is raising money to benefit established literacy programs such as the Magnolia Place School Readiness Program, which serves small children and their parents.

December 09, 2012|By Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times

From the window of a moving car, the Magnolia Place Family Center in the Pico-Union neighborhood is indistinguishable from much of the rest of urban Los Angeles, wrought in the same pastel hues as any taco stand or liquor store.

At first, new mother Rochelle Flores thought it was an adoption center. But after a neighbor said the building had programs for children, Flores decided she had to see for herself.

Inside she discovered a brightly colored facility that hosts nonprofits catering to families, a bank, county services and a medical clinic — designed for children, down to the child-size bookshelves.

Flores was taken. She signed up for the Magnolia Place School Readiness Program's family enrichment program, which in the last year has served 160 children ages 3 and younger.

The program, which costs participants $1 to $8 a month, helps get kids ready for school while providing parents with a community, said Jean Sweeney, director of corporate and foundation relations. The majority of the families are Latinos who live below the poverty level.

The children "learn language development, social and emotional skills and fine motor skills," Sweeney said.

On a recent weekday, Flores sank into an overstuffed couch in a spacious classroom, where daylight spills in through a sliding glass door that opens to a manicured play area. Her 17-month-old son, Rodrigo, trundled contentedly around the room, staring at everything with bright, curious eyes.

Getting into the program was important for both her and her son, Flores said. She lives a block away in a neighborhood where the nearest park is a grassy space that's next to a McDonald's; it has two picnic tables and no bathrooms. And with her husband working long hours as a teacher in Pasadena, Flores needed something to fill her days.

Now she helps teach a class at the center, which is run by the Children's Bureau of Southern California.

"It was really crazy at first," Flores said. "I was just so happy to be doing something."

Rodrigo loves the classes they attend at the center. Even when he's sick and must miss class, he points at the door of their home and says one of the few words he knows: "Teacher! Teacher!"

Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, nearly $450,000 was granted to local literacy programs this year as a result of the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.

The Holiday Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, raises contributions to support established literacy programs run by nonprofit organizations that serve low-income children, adults and families who are reading below grade levels, are at risk of illiteracy or have limited English proficiency.

Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission.

Donate at or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.

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