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Manchester Early Learning Center opens new facility

July 7th, 2017

By David Fenker | The Paper of Wabash County

After nearly four years of fundraising phone calls, letters and presentations, Manchester Early Learning Center’s (MELC) new facility opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday, June 24.

“What a day, what a celebration, what a facility,” MELC Board President Jim Smith said, speaking to a large crowd gathered at the Center’s new location, at 705 N. Market St. in North Manchester.

Smith thanked several people and organizations, including past and present MELC board members, the North Manchester Town Council and the donors and organizations that help fund the Center.

Smith also introduced several speakers who were involved in the project, including Bill Kinder, CEO of design firm Michael Kinder and Sons; Keith Gillenwater, CEO of Economic Development Group of Wabash County; Michael Galbraith of the Road to One Million project; John Sampson, CEO of Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which provided funding for the project through the Regional Development Authority; Jim Chinworth, youth pastor of the Manchester Church of the Brethren (MCoB); Karly Eichenauer, one of the MCoB youths who raised funds for the facility; and MELC Executive Director Janet French.

“I’m incredibly inspired to be here today, because I think that this is one of the most inspirational projects of all of the ones we’re talking about in Northeast Indiana,” Galbraith said.

He added that the partnership is investing nearly $254 million in its 11 counties, meaning about one percent of the total available funds went to the MELC.

“You are investing in a generation that’s going to come back and say, ‘Growing up in North Manchester was the best time of my life.’ You’re also investing in developing a set of leaders that’s going to be unparalleled in Northeast Indiana,” he said, noting that programs to train executives to make an impact in their community are remarkably similar to the training that the MCoB youth group participated in while fundraising for the MELC.

“Where else can you go where you can play all day,” French said.

“Our days are filled with hugs and smiles and priceless artwork, as well as the satisfaction to know that we’re touching the future… We just thank you so much for this gift to our community.”

The students of the Center made a paper chain to serve as the ribbon for the ceremony, and French invited current and past students to come assist with opening the new facility.

According to French, the Center’s Market Street facility will allow them to teach and care for 108 students, more than double the number of spots at their current facility on South Street.

“We have room for up to 55 children, but due to licensing we can really only have 46,” she said.

The Market Street facility has nine classrooms, which will be filled with children ranging from infants to kindergarteners.

With the new space comes a need for new staff members as well. French said that the Center will need a total of 32-35 staff members in a variety of roles once they are at capacity.

She said that July 3 will be the first day that students are in the Market Street facility, and that for the following three to four weeks the Center will keep its current group of students.

“We’ll start contacting parents on our waitlist, some of whom have been waiting since 2013, and we should reach full capacity early next year,” French said.

The Center’s current waitlist is between 200-300, up from around 150 this time last year.

The length of the MELC’s waitlist – and the need that it implies – prompted a group of high school students to begin fundraising for the Center nearly four years ago.

Eichenauer is a member of the Manchester Church of the Brethren Youth Group, which in October 2014 began a project to raise more than $2 million to build a new facility for the MELC.

“Through this project, we’ve witnessed our community’s commitment to children and the future, and while few expected this to become a reality, big dreams do come true because of a community like ours,” she said.

Eichenauer thanked the community for their support, both financially and by spreading word of their efforts and encouraging them.

“This is not the end of the project, but this is the beginning of a brighter future in North Manchester,” she said.

Fundraising will continue for the Center to cover transition costs and create an endowment fund.