KenCrest Services: Letting Their Roots Spread
KenCrest Services is another long-standing childcare provider within the city of Philadelphia. Beginning in 1905 as an organization designed to combat the tuberculosis epidemic, KenCrest would soon go on to provide support for children with disabilities, becoming one of the first Philadelphia-based childcare centers to do so.
“When all people are included and able to be themselves, it is best for everybody,” Melanie Brennan, Executive Director of Early Learning Programs, states reflecting on the organization’s shift to create integrated learning environments for students regardless of ability. Now, with over a century-long history of serving the Philadelphia community, KenCrest has expanded to offer 7 early childhood centers around the city, all of which are high-quality centers as determined by Keystone STARs.
For KenCrest, the community is a guiding force and the key to their success. This dedication to community is what led KenCrest to consider creating a center in Northeast Philadelphia. It had become apparent that there was a need for high-quality care in the Northeast, their other site had a long waitlist and was geographically far from some of the families getting added to the list. They began looking for a location for their center, eventually finding an old furniture warehouse that was for sale. The process of turning a warehouse into a childcare center, and a high-quality one at that, would not be easy or inexpensive. This is where FFQ stepped in.
“Our space was not designed well for the full community care approach we wanted, we knew we had to change it to maintain a high-quality program,” Melanie says, “it was a big risk, we weren’t sure we would be successful, honestly if we didn’t partner with Fund for Quality our programs wouldn’t be here, it was that serious.” It was their belief that students and communities needed this service, and with other funding sources falling through, FFQ offered a lifeline and enabled them to take on the risk that sat before them.
KenCrest’s model of community care is rooted deeply in the unique communities they seek to serve. They survey and engage the community long before developing their programs and putting them into action. “FFQ does the same,” says Melanie, “FFQ is always focused on looking at the neighborhood and how can we support the families living there.” To Melanie, both parties take a “strengths-based approach” that looks at the community and how to build upon it, not disrupt it. This process is achieved through the FFQ Planning stage, which delves deep into the operational and business functions of the center. This includes support in marketing and enrollment, with a community-centered approach. This level of support is possible due to the partnership between Reinvestment Fund and PHMC, who has the technical assistance resources to benefit providers. FFQ also models that approach with the providers it supports, as Melanie puts it, “Fund for Quality doesn’t tell you what to do, they listen to what you need and provide it in a meaningful way.”
The project in the Northeast was not the first time KenCrest and FFQ worked together, but it was the largest project. It included an expansion of 100 more high-quality ECE seats for the Northeast community and a total rework of the space. The furniture warehouse was entirely changed, now housing a spacious and sunlit ECE center with an incredible playground and outdoor space on the side. The center remains committed KenCrest’s core mission, serving all students regardless of ability or language. The program boasts a robust evidence-based curriculum as well as strong English as a Second Language (ESL) support in both the classroom and in its community offerings of services, events, and activities. Melanie attests their established community presence was a catalyst for their strong return, post-COVID.