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Justin Ackeret has a succinct description of Human Services Inc.’s new location and its impact on clients.
“It’s a fresh start,” said Ackeret, manager of HSI’s weatherization program.
HSI provides pre-kindergarten educational programs and financial and housing assistance for income-eligible people in five counties.
Its move from a facility west of the Columbus downtown into the former Cross Cliff Primary School near Clifford was completed in July, following a search that lasted more than a year.
“I’m tickled,” Ackeret said.
He speaks not just as a staff member, but also as a former HSI client. He and his wife once received assistance weatherizing their home, which cut their energy bill dramatically.
Ackeret recalls cramped quarters at the former location; having to raise items off the floor if heavy rains came because of flooding problems; and a lingering, musty smell that lingered after the building was damaged by the June 2008 flood.
Ackeret shares the sentiments of other HSI clients that the benefits of the new location outweigh any negatives of the move.
“I definitely feel the new facility will be beneficial to my son,” said Jennifer Houshour, whose 2-year-old son Wesley is in HSI’s Early Head Start program for children ages 6 weeks to 3 years old.
The Early Head Start program has not yet moved into the new location because the five classrooms for it need to be remodeled. Early Head Start is expected to move to the County Road 600N location Oct. 1. Until then, the classes are spread among locations in the Columbus area.
But when Early Head Start opens in its new location, Houshour’s travel time to take her son to school will decrease significantly. Now it takes her 20 to 25 minutes to reach the Early Head Start facility on McClure Road. With the move, the Taylorsville resident will need about five minutes.
The new location also is closer for residents in Hope and Edinburgh who use HSI services, although it means a little bit more travel for some Columbus clients.
Jill Hammer, HSI’s interim executive director, said bus rides for Head Start students are a little longer, on average, with the move to a more remote location. Previously they averaged 40 to 45 minutes, but now they are about an hour. Also, there are fewer pickups by buses in front of homes because of the extra time and more pickups at central locations.
Because of the new rural location, Hammer said HSI is prepared to make accommodations to help clients. That could involve holding registration sessions for services at central locations in Columbus, conducting on-site visits and mailing registration packets.
The one thing HSI couldn’t bring with it to the new location was its food pantry. The new location didn’t have adequate storage capabilities, and the cost to build a food pantry on the property would have cost at least $100,000, Hammer said.
However, HSI hasn’t ruled out adding a food pantry, or partnering with another community organization to support one, Hammer added.
Despite the loss of the food pantry and a little more travel time for some Columbus residents, clients and staff like the new HSI home.
“There’s a lot of space. I like the setup,” said April Betz, whose 4-year-old son, Gavin, is in the Head Start program.
Betz, who lives between Taylorsville and Edinburgh, also volunteers as a teacher’s helper. She said Gavin seems happy at the school.
“He tells me he likes it. I can’t get him to ride the bus in the morning, but he likes to ride the bus home,” she said.
Five Head Start classes, which assist children in the two years leading up to kindergarten, share three classrooms. Some of the classes are mornings only, and others are afternoons only. Eighty-six children are in the Head Start program.
Each of the five Early Head Start classes will have their own classrooms, because of the space needed for cribs.
Hammer said that not only does the former Cross Cliff Primary provide more classrooms and office space, but room sizes are bigger. Most rooms in the new location average about 900 square feet compared to 650 to 700 square feet in the old location.
“They just give the kids more room. (The children) don’t feel like they’re on top of each other. That should help with classroom management,” Hammer said.
Children in Head Start teacher Kelle Pope’s class seemed happy recently, sitting on floor mats and singing “Itsy, Bitsy Spider.” Their room included tables and chairs for them to sit and work at; a storage area for craft supplies; a reading area; and a play area with toys.
A fenced, outside area gives children space to play. If it’s raining, they can use the former school’s gym for activities.
Ackeret said HSI’s new facility, even though it is an older building, has the feel of something clean and fresh.
“We have the room we need. We have the resources we need,” he said.
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