The blocks are stacked, the books displayed and the large blue couches are ready to welcome Island parents and children to the new Martha’s Vineyard Family Center.
The family center, which has offered free classes, play groups and educational support to Island families for 20 years, opened the doors to its new location this week in Vineyard Haven. The center moved into the newly renovated Stephen Carey Luce House on North William street, which is part of the Nathan Mayhew Seminars campus.
“It’s just amazing that we’re here,” said Debbie Milne, director of early childhood programs at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, last week. The center is operated by Community Services and serves close to 600 families a year, with more than 750 children ages newborn to 8 years old.
Sitting on the blue couch, Ms. Milne was joined by family center director Marney Toole and businessmen Chuck Hughes and Rubin Cronig, both of whom spearheaded the renovation project.
The center was located at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for 18 years and used the space rent-free as part of the school’s early childhood education vocational program. Due to low enrollment, school administrators decided in 2011 to phase out the program by 2014.
Ms. Toole said the high school space had its advantages being part of a central community campus including the high school, YMCA, ice arena and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, she said, but that also proved to be a problem for some.
“For some people it was uncomfortable for them to go to the high school,” Ms. Toole said.
The house will also be home to two nonprofits. Island Grown Initiative and ACE MV will occupy the upstairs offices.
“Having those nonprofit organizations in the building will bode for a lot of collaboration and that’s exciting,” Ms. Milne said.
The center is also exploring ways to collaborate with the Vineyard Haven library across the street.
Ms. Toole said the center gives people a space to come together.
“Being a parent of a young child can be so isolating, even on the Island where you think you would bump into each other,” she said. “It’s a place to come and share and grow a bigger community. A lot of times when a child enters your life, your peers aren’t doing the same thing or your co-workers aren’t doing the same thing. I think it’s always harder than anyone ever tells you, in ways you don’t expect.
“To be able to come and get to know other parents and know that you’re not alone is so important,” she added.
The campus was home to the former Nathan Mayhew Seminars, an institute for higher learning founded in 1976 that offered college-level classes. But the building fell into disrepair and the program dissolved in 2002.
In 2011, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Cronig announced plans to revive the seminars. But when the center needed a new home, Mr. Cronig said it was a perfect match.
Now, Mr. Hughes said, it’s time for a new chapter.
“It’s the best chapter in a long time,” he said.
The 1912 building underwent a complete restoration, including new windows and floors, mold removal, refinished stairs, new paint and added wheelchair accessibility. A swap-shop is planned for a back room sometime later on.
“Chuck and I viewed our role as really creating a home,” Mr. Cronig said. “There was an opportunity to bring organizations together that really served the community and be a part of that.”
The $155,000 renovation project was funded by $75,000 in Community Preservation Act funds from the town of Tisbury, and $80,000 from a special endowment fund at Community Services. That money came from the Baumgartner Maley Endowment fund, named for New York city’s first female department of health commissioner and Helen Maley, the founder of the early childhood program at Community Services.
“That money has been there for something special like this,” Ms. Milne said.
Turning a dilapidated old house into a buzzing community hub took a village, the group agreed, including the board of Community Services, parent and community volunteers, discounts and volunteer labor.
“There were lots of community members ready to do anything to make this project happen,” Mr. Hughes said.
Mr. Cronig said the visualizing Island families using the center kept them motivated.
“People invested in the dream and the people,” Mr. Cronig said. “I think it’s special what it says about the family center and the idea of early childhood education. People were willing to take that risk.”