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HERO CENTRAL: The BEL Center Offers Affordable Childcare

10:22 PM, Oct 8, 2012   |    comments
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WUSA) --- Childcare in the DC Metropolitan area cost an average of $11,000 a year, according to Child Care Aware of America. In Fairfax County United Community Ministries (UCM) is helping low-income families access quality childcare. 

"We want people to be working, low-income people, but then we say, 'What happens with their kids?' We don't want them just going to a neighbors for the day for five years, because parents can't afford anything else," said Shirley Marshall, Executive Director of UCM.

Located off Route 1, the Bryant Early Learning Center (BEL) provides a safe, affordable place for children (6 weeks - five years old) while their parents are working or attending high school.   

Tuition for BEL costs $230 to $284 a week depending on the age of the child. The Fairfax County's Office for Children (OFC) offers financial aid to low-income families and high school moms. Eighty percent of children receive subsidized tuition at BEL.

Three-year-old Justin Kouevi has attended BEL since he was 6-weeks-old. Kouevi enjoys dancing and playing mini-basketball inside the classroom.  He is the last of four children to go to the BEL center. 

Teko Kouevi, Justin's father, is thankful for BEL and the subsidy provided by the OFC.

"They help us tremendously to pay our tuition," said Kouevi.

"We are just thrilled to be a part of that and be able to help families with their children. Families know that those first five years are important," said JoAnn Higgs, Director of the BEL.

The center assesses each child to identify any learning barriers or deficiencies. Once a child enters pre-K, he or she is tested regularly in preparation for the beginning of elementary school. 

"The ultimate goal for every child that enters here, even our infants, is to get them prepared for kindergarten," said Higgs.

Kouevi appreciates the safe environment BEL provides and the educational programs that help prepare his sons for school.

"They know their alphabets, they can count, and they know tricks to drawing, writing. So it's very helpful," Kouevi said.

BEL's success has not come easily. With budget cuts in Fairfax County, individuals are losing much needed subsidies that help pay for childcare at BEL. Since July, 2012, childcare subsidies no longer extend into a grace period when a person loses his or her job. When the job is lost, the childcare subsidy is immediately ended. The same policy also applies to a teen mom who graduates from high school.

"It is just unfortunate that some of our cuts are on the backs of the families who need it the most and the children," said Higgs.

NOTE: Gannett Foundation has given a donation to United Community Ministries.

Written/Produced by: Elizabeth Jia
9NEWS NOW & WUSA9.com  


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