EVERETT — Darcy Baldridge tried an art project. At age 2, she wasn’t busy with it for long. She joined her brother, 4-year-old Simon, who was working his way through the preschooler toys in a colorful playroom.
Outside, Patti Spurgeon’s grandson, 17-month-old Haddon, climbed into a Little Tikes coupe and used his feet to get a move on. Charlie Parkhurst, a 2-year-old in an Elmo tank top, wanted his turn in the kiddie car.
They had come to ChildStrive, a nonprofit agency that’s part of the Children’s Village complex on Everett’s East Casino Road. On Tuesday mornings, ChildStrive sponsors a weekly Casino Road Play and Learn Group.
ChildStrive was originally known as Little Red School House. That agency was founded in 1963 in south Snohomish County to serve children, birth to school age, with developmental disabilities or delays. It was meant to fill the needs school districts would serve as children entered special education.
The Tuesday play group isn’t just for ChildStrive clients. It’s open to all families with children 18 months to 5 years old. Those living in the Casino Road neighborhood are especially welcome, said Terry Clark, ChildStrive executive director.
“At certain developmental stages, there should be lots and lots of support for families,” Clark said. “Parenting is probably the hardest job any of us will ever have. Somehow, we’re all supposed to know how to do it.”
Lynnwood’s Rebekah Baldridge, the mother of Simon and Darcy, said her son was born 14 weeks early. Simon didn’t come home from the UW Medical Center until 112 days after his birth.
“He needed help with basic development, feeding therapy and speech therapy,” Baldridge said. For about two years, the family had home visits from ChildStrive speech therapist Jacqueline Oh.
Although Simon no longer needs therapy and is now reading, he and his little sister have fun learning and socializing with other kids at the play group.
Today, ChildStrive’s mission is much broader than it once was. The creation of the Children’s Village complex at 14 E. Casino Road about 15 years ago brought more families seeking help with early learning.
Along with ChildStrive, Children’s Village houses several other agencies serving young people. They include: Hand In Hand, Casino Road Kids Ministries, the YMCA Casino Road Youth Development Center, the Institute for Family Development, and Head Start and Early Head Start.
Clark said ChildStrive, which helps about 2,500 children a year, oversees home visits and the drop-in play group, the Nurse-Family Partnership, early-intervention services, and a Parents as Teachers program.
“Our core function is working with birth to 3-year-olds who have disabilities or delays,” she said. “But a lot of kids don’t meet criteria for state-supported programs. And a lot of kids are doing fine, but their families want to do better by them.
“Whether they’re born with a disability, are homeless or grew up on Casino Road, whatever is going on in their lives we want to support children so they are ready, active learners when they walk into kindergarten,” Clark said.
Part of the vision of Children’s Village is for agencies serving children to share facilities. “Nobody needs a big conference room all the time,” Clark said.
Some ChildStrive clients are being served by other agencies at the site. A few parents involved in the play group also take English as a second language or GED classes through the Y’s Youth Development Center.
Courtney Miller, a ChildStrive family counselor, facilitates the play group, which is on summer break through Sept. 8. It will resume, 10-11:30 a.m., on Sept. 15.
The group isn’t preschool, there are no formal lessons. “My goal is to promote parent-child interaction, and provide a safe space to do that,” Miller said.
Molly Parkhurst, Charlie’s mom, brought her son to the group from Bothell. Charlie has been helped by ChildStrive home visits that have addressed a speech delay. Everett’s Maria Vargas was there with her 3-year-old daughter, Maley.
They are playmates who don’t exactly play together. “Before age 3, it’s typical that they engage in side-by-side play,” Miller said. “It can be a challenge when kids see a toy and think ‘it’s mine.’ These parents do a good job.”
Kathleen Lefcourt, ChildStrive’s marketing manager, said the group is an opportunity for very young children with disibilities to interact with other kids. “Sometimes it’s the first socialization they have with typically developing kids,” she said.
Lefcourt said one mother brought a child whose disability required that a helmet always be worn. “They don’t go out in public,” she said. “For a lot of families, it’s a safe place.”
By opening its doors to Casino Road families, ChildStrive serves an added purpose.
“For people who live on Casino Road, it can be a transient community. They don’t know their neighbors,” Clark said. “Here, people meet people who are their neighbors. It’s a small way of helping people get to know their community and have a connection. We’re working hard to empower people.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Children’s Village, 14 E. Casino Road in Everett, houses several nonprofit organizations providing services to children, teens and their families. ChildStrive (formerly Little Red School House) purchased four buildings that make up Children’s Village in 1999. Agencies there are:
Supports families with children, 18 months to 5 years old, who have disabilities, delays or are at risk for delays. Provides home visits and drop-in play groups. The play group meets 10-11:30 a.m. Tuesdays, starting Sept. 15. www.childstrive.org/
Hand In Hand
Through its Safe Place, offers a crisis place for children removed from homes due to abuse, neglect or drug use. Its Village Impact Project provides food, clothing, school supplies and resources. www.handinhandkids.org/?view=mobile
Casino Road Kids Ministries
Provides after-school homework clubs for elementary school-aged children. Hot meals and snacks included. www.crmkids.org/
Casino Road Youth Development Center
This program of the Mukilteo YMCA provides services for kids age 6-18. Includes the Y’s Minority Achievers Program for middle school and high school students. http://ymca-snoco.org/locations/Mukilteo/crydc.ashx?p=1271
Institute for Family Development
Provides intensive in-home services for children at risk of removal from their homes. www.institutefamily.org/
Head Start and Early Head Start
Provides home-based and classroom-based education support for children birth through age 5 and their families. Overseen by Edmonds Community College. http://hsweb.edcc.edu/