Charities Programs, St. Mary Villa Childcare will Move to St. Vincent (Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register)

Posted 04/22/2016

St. Mary Villa Child Development Center, which has served working families in Nashville for decades and can trace its roots back more than 150 years to St. Mary's Orphanage, recently faced a real threat of closing, until it found a new home on the St. Vincent de Paul campus in North Nashville.

"I think of it as divine intervention to find this location," Bill Sinclair, executive director of Catholic Charities of Tennessee, told the St. Vincent congregation on Sunday, April 17.

After months of negotiations between Catholic Charities, St. Mary Villa and St. Vincent, Sinclair presented to St. Vincent parishioners an overview of the programs and services that will be moving into the old St. Vincent school building this summer. "I'm excited about this, and it's a big deal," Sinclair said.

This summer, St. Mary Villa Child Development Center, which offers full time childcare for children ages 6 weeks through pre-school; Catholic Charities' Senior Enrichment Center, which offers weekday care for senior adults; and Catholic Charities' North Nashville Outreach program, will move to St. Vincent.

According to Sinclair, the move will provide an opportunity for new partnerships and expanded services. "We know St. Vincent is a serving community," he said, with many parishioners involved in community outreach. "We want to engage them. We really see this as a partnership," more than just a landlord/tenant agreement, Sinclair said.

"There have been some bumps along the way," in coming to a lease agreement, according to St. Vincent Deacon Bill Hill, "but I think this will be good for everybody."

"This is one of the best transitions that has happened to this parish," said St. Vincent pastor Father Athanasius Abanulo.

The parish has had its share of transitions over the years, which have been unsettling to some long-time parishioners. The most disappointing was the closing of the historic parish school in 2009. St. Vincent de Paul School, which was founded by St. Katharine Drexel in 1932, provided a quality education to African-American students for decades, but had to close when dwindling enrollment made it no longer feasible for the parish to operate it.

After St. Vincent school closed, public charter school LEAD Academy leased the building. LEAD Academy High School will wrap up this school year at St. Vincent and then move to a new home.

The process for St. Vincent to iron out a lease with its new tenants has taken many months of dialogue and numerous parish council meetings. St. Vincent leaders like Father Abanulo and Deacon Hill want parishioners to know that the parish is in charge of the process and has independently vetted all the terms of the lease. "All indications are that we have a lot to benefit from this," said Father Abanulo.

The initial five-year lease, which could be renewed for five more years, will provide much needed income for the parish, and offer opportunities for mutual support between all the organizations involved. "It's not just about money. It's also about faith, hope and trust," said Father Abanulo.

‘Great opportunity'

The North Nashville Outreach, which started in the early 1980s as a joint effort between St. Vincent and Assumption parishes, has had several homes over the years. The office is currently based at the McGruder Family Resource Center, located on 25th Avenue North. The move to St. Vincent "is a great opportunity to expand and truly identify what needs the community is looking for," said Megan Stack Emerson, director of Catholic Charities' Family Assistance and Community Employment Department.

The Outreach office will continue to offer a food pantry, and will add a monthly fresh food giveaway. With funding from Catholic Charities USA, the Outreach office will add a SNAP counselor, who can help clients apply for food stamps, and offer nutrition counseling.

The Outreach office is also working with Saint Thomas Health Services to offer nutrition classes and support for healthy lifestyles.

"We will always provide safety net services, but we hope to offer more programs that lead to systemic change as well," Emerson said. That would include more adult education, GED and financial literacy classes, as well as more job training opportunities.

A hotel has also approached Catholic Charities about running a hospitality job training program at St. Vincent, with the goal of hiring better trained and more reliable and invested employees.

If all goes as planned, the Outreach center will receive a grant from United Way so it can be designated as a Family Resource Center, "so we can replicate what we're doing in South Nashville," Sinclair said. This would allow for even more services and new staff hires. "I'm a big believer in multi-service centers. It's more benefit to everyone to have more things going on in one space," he said.

‘Excitement is looming'

St. Mary Villa Child Development Center and the Senior Enrichment Center, currently based at the Diocese of Nashville's White Bridge Road campus, have known for some time that they would have to find a new home. The building they currently occupy, which formerly housed the Catholic Charities administrative offices, the Catholic Schools office, and other programs which are now based at the Catholic Pastoral Center on McGavock Pike, is no longer practical or cost effective for those two remaining programs to operate.

Plans are still pending for that part of the White Bridge Road property. Mary, Queen of Angels assisted living facility and Villa Maria Manor, which offers affordable apartments to low-income elderly residents, will continue to operate there.

During the two months between when Catholic Charities and St. Mary Villa take over the lease of the St. Vincent school building in mid-June and when they move in mid-August, they plan to add some security features and make some minor modifications to the building. They will also engage volunteers from Hands on Nashville and the Catholic Charities Young Professionals group to paint, help move, and prepare the new playground.

With a grant from KaBoom!, a national non-profit organization that encourages play through funding playground equipment in low and middle income areas, St. Mary Villa children will have a brand new place to play.

The outside space will have a smaller footprint than the current space, "so we will be downsizing," said St. Mary Villa director Clarie Givens. However, the move to St. Vincent does offer access to a full size gym. "We've never had a gym before, so that is a huge plus for us, so on bad weather days the children can get out of the classroom," she said. Overall, Givens said, "the space, to me, is beautiful ... and the building is in great shape."

St. Mary Villa Child Development Center, which is supported by parent fees, United Way, and the Diocese of Nashville, offers high quality childcare to families across a wide socio-economic spectrum by using a sliding scale fee model.

At three open meetings with St. Mary Villa parents about the upcoming move, Givens said, "all the feedback I've gotten has been positive." While she doesn't expect 100 percent of families to migrate to the new location with them, she has gotten confirmation from the majority of families that they will stick with the Child Development Center after the move. "The big thing the parents want to know is, ‘Are the teachers going?' The parents get very attached to the teachers." Givens is happy to answer, ‘yes,' and for most teachers, she said, the new commute from home to work will be even shorter.

It's too early to tell what the challenges will be with the move, Givens said. "Right now, the excitement is looming."


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