Head Start, child care open at Jewish campus

Head Start, child care open at Jewish campus

Nondenominational agencies rent space vacated by Brody

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Children at the Collinsville Child Care Center, located at the Brody Center on the Aidekman campus in Whippany, enjoy morning activities.
Children at the Collinsville Child Care Center, located at the Brody Center on the Aidekman campus in Whippany, enjoy morning activities.

Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers have returned to the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, where two nondenominational childcare organizations are now renting space that once housed The Brody Early Childhood Center.

The Collinsville Child Care Center and the Head Start Community Program of Morris County opened Sept. 8 and Sept. 27, respectively.

The two nonprofit centers are the latest tenants in a building that now includes a Gold’s Gym as well as the offices of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, New Jersey Jewish News, the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, the Jewish Historical Society, the Waldor Library, and the Wilf Holocaust Memorial.

The Brody center, affiliated with JCC MetroWest, closed its doors in June, citing financial issues. It did not relocate, but the space continues to be called the Brody Center. In response to the closing, however, Adath Shalom in Morris Plains opened a preschool, and a majority of families whose youngsters had attended Brody moved together there.

Collinsville, an independent child care center, was located at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown for 38 years. But this past year negotiations over renewing the lease failed.

Executive director Karen Wasick joined forces with Eileen Jankunis, executive director of Head Start of Morris County, who was also looking for a site for a new Early Head Start Program.

“When I saw this site I fell in love with it: the openness and airiness, the light,” Wasick said of the new location. “It’s so light and airy.”

Collinsville focuses on providing day care services to children from low-income families. According to the St. Peter’s website, “It was started in 1970 by a group of low-income minority mothers in the Collinsville section of Morristown who could not afford childcare and who joined together to mind each other’s children.” Over the years it has evolved into an accredited center with professionally trained teachers and approved curricula.

Thirty children are currently enrolled, although there is space for 48. The cost per child is managed on a sliding scale, ranging from $24 per week up to a maximum rate of $190 per week. The center reserves 33 slots for low-income families; the rest are open to all.

Wasick, who is Jewish, has led the center since 1988. She emphasized her desire to welcome local families, including Jewish families. She said she would be looking into securing grants for afternoon Jewish enrichment “to restore some of what the Jewish community had here.”

The Early Head Start program is for toddlers ages 18 months through three years old. There are two Early Head Start “classes” at the Brody Center, each with eight children. (A third Early Head Start program is at Head Start’s Dover site, along with a home-based program for pregnant women and their children from birth through 18 months.) Head Start is a government program for children from low-income families.

Head Start board member Jay Gold of East Hanover heard about the vacant space and steered Jankunis to UJC MetroWest NJ, which owns and operates the site.

“The site is perfect because it was already set up as a children’s center. There was little we needed to do to meet our needs,” said Jankunis. Negotiations went “smoothly,” she said.

Both organizations commented on the “warm” and “accommodating” welcome they received from UJC MetroWest.

Wasick said she hopes to retrofit the playground, currently suitable for five- to 12-year-olds, for the younger clientele.

And although the Jewish organizations in the building close for Jewish holidays and close early on Fridays for Shabbat, because the two new residents are not under Jewish auspices, neither is required to follow suit. The facility remains fully operational and has a full maintenance staff when the Jewish organizations are closed.

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