ADVERTISEMENT

A novel, around-the-clock day care center serving the children of workers in the hospitals and laboratories on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is opening next week.

The Erma D. Robinson Universal Center at 833 Michigan Ave. is the only 23-hour day care center in the region, according to its organizers. It is set to serve Fruit Belt residents and Medical Campus employees who work early-morning, afternoon and overnight shifts.

Leaders of St. John Baptist Church, which is opening the day care center, say the facility fills a need in that part of the city and will position its young charges for success in secondary school and beyond.

“We are taking care of our children emotionally, physically, educationally. We are preparing our children for their futures, whatever that may be,” Elaine Hayes, the center's director, said after Wednesday morning's dedication ceremony.

The $250,000 center is set to open Monday, serving 3- and 4-year-olds initially before expanding to children as young as 6 months.

Medical Campus officials say the day care center adds to the range of services available on and near the campus and fits well with their ongoing efforts to encourage more workers to live in Buffalo.

Demand for the center likely will grow as the new Children's Hospital, University at Buffalo Medical School and other buildings open on the campus, bringing thousands of additional workers there.

“We hear it all the time,” said Kari Bonaro, spokeswoman for the Medical Campus, who sends her children to day care and knows openings in reliable centers can be hard to find. “It's a huge workforce issue.”

Twenty-five children already are enrolled in the center, which will have 10 staffers and serve as many as 91 children at a time, Hayes said.

It will be open Monday through Friday, around the clock except for one hour, as required under state regulations to ensure cleaning and maintenance has been completed. Hayes said that hour will be in the early evening.

Officials said the center curriculum will follow state pre-K guidelines, with a focus on reading, writing and listening skills. Spanish will be offered as a second language.

“We believe we can teach children how to learn,” the Rev. Michael Chapman, St. John Baptist pastor, said during the ceremony.

Center organizers say months of planning went into selecting the curriculum and the broad range of programs – including classical music – that will be offered.

It is important to teach children the character, civility and other traits needed to mold future leaders, said the Rev. Walter Fluker, a professor of ethical leadership at Boston University, who served as a consultant to the center planners.

Fluker said that young people, “if given opportunities, will change communities and change worlds.”

The center is named for Erma Robinson, an educator and social worker, who was praised at Wednesday's ceremony for her dedication to community and to St. John Baptist.

The day care center is located in the church's Rev. Dr. Bennett W. Smith Sr. Family Life Center and features five classrooms.

The building previously housed the Aloma D. Johnson Fruit Belt Community Charter School, which was operated by St. John Baptist for five years, Chapman said. Church officials decided to let the charter school move to a larger venue, under new leadership and to open a day care center in the school's place.

The St. John Baptist day care center isn't the first of its kind to open on the Medical Campus. A day care center in Roswell Park Cancer Institute opened in 1980 for cancer center workers; it was later opened to the public.

The center moved in 2006 to the Family Life Center on the church campus, renamed Great Strides Early Childhood Center and closed in 2008 because of high operating costs and low enrollment, according to the cancer center.

There is a demand for day care services for campus workers, because there are many single parents who work, two-parent households where both parents work and cases of employees working second jobs, said Flo Tripi, western region president for CSEA, which represents about 1,300 Roswell Park workers through Locals 303 and 315.

“We have people who work 24/7,” Tripi said.

There are 12,000 workers at the various Medical Campus facilities now, with employment expected to reach 17,000 by 2016.

The Medical Campus has no plans to open its own day care center, said Bonaro, the spokeswoman. But campus officials met with Hayes, the director of the Robinson Center, in January to discuss the church's plans.

And when the day care center had an open house a couple of weeks ago, the Medical Campus advertised the event among its workers, Bonaro said.

Medical Campus administrators want to see more employees living in Buffalo and taking public transportation to work. Opening a day care center on the campus makes the city more attractive to campus workers, said Patrick J. Whalen, the campus' chief operating officer.

“It's part of our overall housing initiative to get people to live in the city,” Whalen said. “We're absolutely supportive of that.”

email: swatson@buffnews.com