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THE CHILDREN'S CENTER TURNS 50

For the past 50 years, the Children’s Center of Hilton Head Island has provided an invaluable service to the working parents of the Lowcountry. Thanks to reduced tuition for low-income residents, all members of the community can take advantage of the nonprofit group’s programs offering safe and creative environments for children that encourage learning, personal growth and development.

It’s an establishment older than the Town of Hilton Head Island and the second oldest nonprofit organization in the area. Local community leaders the Rev. Isaac Wilborn and Billie Hack founded the center in 1967, with an original enrollment of just 15 children. Their goal was simple: to create a safe and loving environment for all children to succeed, no matter their background or economic status. Fifty years later, the center continues to be an anchor of the community, providing a high-quality and affordable early-learning program for nearly 200 of Beaufort County’s youngest residents.

THIS YEAR, THE CHILDREN’S CENTER IS CELEBRA TING ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY WITH A L UNCHEON IN OC TOBER AT THE COUNTRY CLUB OF HILTON HEAD ISLAND IN OC TOBER. FOR MORE INFORMATION OR T O VOLUNTEER OR DONATE TO THE CENTER, GO TO www.THECHILDRENSCENTERSC.ORG.

Childrens Center2Located in a state-of-the-art building near Jarvis Creek Park, the current facility is about 10 years old, with 11 classrooms. Open Monday to Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., the center includes modern touches like security and monitoring systems, as well as SmartBoard and computer technology in the classrooms.

Governed by an active board of trustees and a full-time administrative staff, the Children’s Center has several employees who have worked there for decades. The student body ranges from 6-month-olds to age six, with summer camps for children up to age eight. The center receives state vouchers to offset the costs of running the school, but parents are expected to pay what they can, based on a sliding scale. The center also relies on community contributions from local organizations like the Bargain Box, Operation Round Up, the Rotary Club and Caring Coins, among others.

“Our goal is to have these children ready for kindergarten when they leave this center,” said Jody Levitt, who has been the center’s executive director for more than two years. “The key thing is our sliding scale tuition, our tenure in the community and our diversity. We have a variety of children from all different backgrounds and ethnicities. We aren’t a homogeneous society; we celebrate all different backgrounds.”

The Children's Center has been a home away from home for Chris and Wendi Whittle’s four children. Both parents work on Hilton Head — Chris Whittle is a small-business owner and Wendi works as an office manager for a local construction company. The Whittles live in Bluffton and their work schedules vary, but they rely on the structure the center provides for their children.

“They’re not only learning, they’re having fun while they’re doing it,” Wendi Whittle said.

In addition to supporting kids and parents, the Children’s Center also helps its teachers succeed. All teachers must complete an introductory early childhood development course through the Technical College of the Lowcountry. If a teacher wishes to continue his or her education, South Carolina’s TEACH program pays for up to 80 percent of an associate’s degree. Many teachers at the Children's Center pursue this option.

PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY THE CHILDREN'S CENTER