What can happen when a community cares and cares
Once a warehouse for goods transported into and out of the city via the Erie Canal (which after 1925 became Erie free running Boulevard in Syracuse), the four story building in the downtown Hanover Square area, a preservation district, might now be called a “quadruple ender,” for through it flow goods and services for four vital “markets” family day care homes, homes of families at risk, children’s local history projects, and public forums on child needs.
The building also houses a thriving crafts shop.
These needs were first perceived by a community minded public school drama teacher, Mary Lynch. She talked up the idea of opening a crafts shop in downtown Syracuse and using the proceeds to help meet the children’s needs.
A number of community and church groups, social workers and school personnel, and agencies such as the Onondaga County Health Department responded. From this loose coalition emerged the first working committee of about 25 women who decided to rent the old canal building from the Department of Community Development at $1 a month. They did much of the settling in work themselves, with boosts from husbands and children. Department stores donated shopping bags; one even lent an account free running ant to help set up bookkeeping and selling procedures.
The crafts shop opened its doors in July 1973. As receipts mounted, augmented by outside funding, the consortium could move toward its service goals.
The members’ interest in quality day care brought to light one area of immediate need: children in family day care homes were without games, books, or toys; the licensed daycare mothers were thus pressed for ways to keep their “charges” busy and contented.
The consortium saw itself as a sort of school on wheels, delivering skills and materials directly to these homes. Its first wheels belonged to a van bought and maintained for a year by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. It became the Magic Bus.
“A family day care home,” explained Elizabeth Higbee, the consortium’s volunteer coordinator, “is an alternative to a day care center for low income working parents. Each home has a mother in charge and accommodates six children , ranging in age fro free running m six weeks to 12 years. Many of these children come from single parent homes.
“We stocked the Magic Bus with educational toys, books, creative materials, games, and music, staffed it with an early childhood specialist, and started out.
“The bus now visits 100 family day care homes some 450 children biweekly. Our materials are comparable to the educational programming at a child care center. One of the most helpful resources for the mother in charge is the idea sheet which explains how the creative materials can be used. She of course can get further help from our worker and her aide. The bus also has a lending library.”
Mrs. Higbee added, “The program has been so successful that when funds free running were running low, the county legislature in conjunction with the state allotted the necessary money to keep it going.”