7960317884?profile=originalChildren play in the sandbox at the Achievement Centers for Children & Families, which serves about 700 children each year. Photos by Jerry Lower

 

By Emily J. Minor

    It’s easy to drive by this campus with the pale-colored concrete buildings and not think a thing or two about it.
    From the outside, you can’t see all the lives changing within.
    But for more than 40 years — since a group of female social activists each threw five bucks on the table to get the Achievement Centers for Children & Families off and running — this still-growing nonprofit has been a cornerstone for Delray Beach’s needy population.
    “They did everything back then,” says Stephanie Seibel, executive director of the foundation arm that raises money and awareness for the center.
    “They drove the buses. They made the lunches. They did it all.”
    They still do everything at the center that serves children in hard-luck families. They just do it in a bigger space, with more staff, and for more families.
    First incorporated in 1969, when volunteers with the League of Women Voters saw the everyday struggles of poor parents with children, the center is now three buildings with a satellite location at The Village Academy, a public choice school. Serving children from 12 months to 18 years old, the center provides eligible families with daycare, pre-school and adolescent services. There’s also an after-care program.
    More than anything, though, the achievement center provides a loving place to learn and grow at a cost that’s affordable for each family, Seibel says.
    Back in the early days, the center was located in an old house on Atlantic Avenue. When that location met resistance from the neighbors, the mayor at the time sat on the front porch to show his support. The center moved to Lake Ida Road in 1990.
    Seibel said it was one of the center’s first teachers — today’s CEO Nancy K. Hurd — who looked at the scruffy piece of property and knew it was perfect.
    “She had a real vision,” Seibel says.
   7960317694?profile=original From art classes to hot lunches, potty training and proper social skills, the center’s main focus for its pre-schoolers is getting them ready for kindergarten. “That is key,” Seibel says.
    But the center — which also houses the local Head Start program — isn’t a free ride.
    Administrators demand parent involvement. Indeed, parents have to have a job if they want to enroll a child.
    “They have to show they are making an effort,” Seibel says. “This isn’t a drop-off center. Everybody pays something and they have to come to parent-teacher meetings and get involved.”
    The results are amazing.
    The preschool rooms are bright and sunny and cluttered with the kinds of things you’d want a happy classroom to be cluttered with: artwork, backpacks, books, cots for napping.
    There’s a new library with a beautiful story corner. Seibel says a majority of the labor and materials was donated for that.
    There’s an after-school computer lab. A gymnasium with a professional stage offers the perfect setting for theater productions.
    And, a kitchen. The center serves about 600,000 free hot meals a year.
    Of course, it’s the sense of community that has made this place successful, she says. Many of the teachers live in the nearby neighborhoods and have children who have attended the achievement center.
    Volunteers provide some of the backbone, coming regularly for one-on-one reading and tutoring. And the center’s summer camp program is renowned for its fantastic programs.
    With 86 employees serving roughly 700 children, the center operates on government funding, parent fees and private money. And that means a lot of visitors, constantly examining the way things are run.
    Seibel says it makes them that much better.
    “With that funding, comes a lot of strings and audits,” Seibel says. “There’s always
somebody in here with a clipboard.”                            

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