Community members help make Children’s Garden work for struggling families

jwoodson@thestate.com July 6, 2008 

Children’s Garden is an eclectic mix of hues and hustle, of people and problems.

This child development center, located on the backside of Columbia College inside a United Methodist church, is a place where mostly homeless and poor families bring their children for care. Most of the parents are working but still cannot make ends meet.

As many as 40 children of many races and ethnicities take part in computer learning, reading and good old-fashioned playtime. Ten unborn babies are already on the waiting list.

And, like this Wednesday morning, at 9 a.m., it’s busy.

A woman at the office is on the phone with a volunteer and helping an intern on her first day.

A Richland County library volunteer is singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in English and Spanish.

A 2-year-old dressed in pink is yelling, “Quack, Quack!” A 1-year-old is smashing Cheerios on his face.

A mother hurries in to drop off one child before leaving with another.

A foster grandparent dressed in red takes her spot in a rocking chair in the baby room.

Harriet Atkinson, the program director, says the center — run by Volunteers of America — couldn’t do it all alone.

“We couldn’t survive without not only funding, but the in-kind help from the community,” she said. “The community coming in like this helps us so much.”

Kanika Moore, 26, a mother of four, says the center has given her peace of mind as she pulls her life back together. About a year ago, she came to Columbia from Charleston alone and with no money.

In Columbia, she knew she’d have the support of her church, Full Gospel Word & Worship Center.

Until recently, she used Children’s Garden as a child-care center while she worked on finding permanent housing and obtaining her GED. She has hopes of becoming a surgical technician.

“I didn’t even know that they had an outlet or something I had access to be able to pull myself together,” she said. “Just about every situation that I brought to them, they’ve helped me with.”

She credits the Children’s Garden and her transitional housing facility, Hannah House, with helping her make positive moves.

Although Moore is living on public assistance, today she is not living in transitional housing, nor does she use Children’s Garden. The facility does still help her with supplies.

Along with the people, she thanks God for helping her change.

“In order for me change the situation that I was in, I had to change myself,” she said. “I am not the same person I was before.”

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