Community partnership creates classroom to help families who can't afford child care

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The building had its wear and tear inside. But outside, Children First saw its potential -- and soon, it will be a classroom for families in need of child care.

"We saw a prime opportunity to recreate the space, make it beautiful for children, families and staff and get kids off the wait list," said Philip Tavill, president and CEO of Children First. 

There are over 150 on the waitlist: families who can barely make ends meet and children who need care while their parents work or go to school.

"The first 5 years are critical," Tavill said. "It's brain development. It's setting the stage for success for the rest of their lives."

To make sure kids get off to a good start, volunteers transformed the modular building into two classrooms, which will house a staff of teachers and 16 infants and toddlers. 

"It's critically important for those families to change their stories so their children can have a different opportunity then they did," said Tavill. 

Children First operates in 14 locations in Sarasota County. This will be the second location on the grounds of the Sarasota Housing Authority, and those who will utilize the free service live right here. 

"Our children within our community can have the same opportunity as everyone else to have the ability to learn, dream and grow," said Jessica Rogers, who serves as the vice president of philanthropy. 

Every penny for the project was donated by community members, Rogers said. Philanthropists Keith and Linda Monda, Joe and Nora Stephan and Bart and Joan Levenson helped donate the money. PGT and Richard Shue with Shue-Kauffman Building and Roofing transformed the space. 

"Every child is born with potential. Not every child is born with opportunity. We are fortunate to live in a community here in Sarasota where we have very generous individuals who understand that," Rogers said. 

Children First works to help kids and their parents succeed. 

"I needed the daycare and the assistance as well as the motivation from the family advocates to keep pressing forward," said Katressa Wilson, who began using Children First 15 years ago. 

Wilson's children are excelling as she now works for the non-profit that helped her get a hand up. 

"It set up the foundation they needed for preschool. It was ready for them to face whatever adversities," she said. 

LINK: For more information on Children First, visit their website: