Center puts toddlers on right reading track
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 8, 2004

Carol Sowers
Every morning when Darlene Marquez drops her children off at Phoenix Day, she thinks about how lucky she is.

"My daughter knows 10 times as much as she did before," said Marquez, 22, of Phoenix.

Marquez is typical of the working-poor single mothers who bring their children to the non-profit Phoenix Day Child and Family Learning Center, 115 E. Tonto St.

By "before," Marquez meant the few months her children spent in another non-profit center, where, she said, "the programs weren't good, and neither was the center."

"My kids love it here," she said of Phoenix Day. Even on the weekends, she said, her 4-year-old daughter, Essence, asks if she can go to school.

Marquez said her 2-year-old son, Xavier, also is thriving at the center, where he romps on welcoming playgrounds and explores the world of words.

The center, known for its educational, health and nutrition programs, was given a financial pick-me-up of $20,000 by Season for Sharing donors last year.

The money was needed for more books and teaching materials for a literacy program for children as young as 6 weeks.

The program isn't just about books. Puppets, music and play-acting also teach children about the rhythmic power of words. And once a month, during Family Literacy Night, children and their parents read books together and take them home to start their own libraries.

"Without the grant, we would have had to seek other funding," said Yvette Katsenes, Phoenix Day's executive director, whose job is to keep the center on solid financial footing.

Over the past 11 years, Season for Sharing donors have contributed $625,000 to the center, which cares for about 130 students from infants to pre-kindergarten daily and as many as 168 children during summer programs.

The innovative center's rich history paints a picture of a non-profit group far ahead of its time.

The Junior Guild of Trinity Cathedral founded Phoenix Day in 1915 to provide child care for World War I wives entering the workforce.

Twenty-three years later, Phoenix Day became one of the city's first centers to enroll and integrate children of all racial backgrounds.

That diversity prompted Joan Ganz Cooney, founder of Sesame Street and a North High graduate, to test her show's curriculum at Phoenix Day.

To celebrate the center's collage of cultures, children have written greetings in several languages at the center entrance. One child wrote "Bienvenidos" - Spanish for "welcome."

Marquez, like other working-poor parents at Phoenix Day, qualifies for state day-care subsidies, which means she pays only $10 a week for both children.

"That helps me a lot," she said.

Marquez attends Phoenix College part time and hopes one day to be a social worker. In the meantime, she is elated about her children's progress at Phoenix Day.

"My daughter now asks for books," she said. "And my son likes to hear me read out loud."

Although both children can remain at Phoenix Day until they are 6, Marquez says the time will pass too fast.

"I wish we could stay here longer," she said.