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Published: Tuesday, 1/20/2009

Grant to help open learning center in old bank site

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE Monroe County Community College has landed a $300,000 state grant to open a learning center in a vacant bank branch in the city s Orchard East neighborhood.

David Nixon, president of the community college, said the Learning Bank Network will be the starting point for displaced workers and unemployed to transition into classes at the community college,

The Learning Bank Network will fill a gap in education and training services for a population that is not being served right now, said Mr. Nixon.

The center will be housed in the vacant Monroe Bank & Trust branch at Eastchester and First streets in the Orchard East neighborhood near the Arthur Lesow Community Center, which is among about a dozen groups partnering in the project.

The college and the bank are working with community center, social agencies, and state and county organizations to staff and operate the facility.

Among the services that will be offered at the center will be GED tutoring and preparation, parenting programs, and classes in home ownership, money management, and budgeting.

In searching for ways to finance the center, the college asked in December for $500,000 in funding from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

The state agency responded last week to the request, providing $300,000 from the No Worker Left Behind Adult Learning grant, one of 11 grants awarded for projects throughout the state, Mr. Nixon said.

The grant will run from Feb. 3 to Dec. 30, 2010, and will provide the necessary money to staff the center with tutors, counselors, and a project director.

Educational assessment and tutoring for the GED will be given at the center, and adults will take the exam at the MCCC campus.

Mr. Nixon said getting the individuals on campus is part of the program s strategy to introduce them to college and eventually enrolled into certificate programs for entry into in-demand skilled jobs of the future.

That is why we are calling it a bridge program, he said.

Mary Jane Town, senior vice president and director of marketing for the bank, said improvements will be made to get the branch ready for the Learning Bank Network. The bank is paying for the renovations and will contribute an additional $20,000 a year to support the center, she said.

We believe that there are many opportunities to provide additional GED preparation and testing. We know that there is more that is needed to provide learning opportunities to bridge the gap between high school and college, she said.

The future Learning Bank Network is modeled after program in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Mr. Nixon and MBT president and chief operating officer Douglas Chaffin were among the network organizers and community leaders who visited Learning Corner at Wealthy, which is jointly operated by Huntington Bank, Grand Rapids Community College, and community service agencies.

Ms. Town said that in shuttering the Orchard East branch last April, the bank didn t want leave the neighborhood with a vacant building and met with social agencies and faith-based organizations to find a use for the branch that would serve the community.

The Learning Corner at Wealthy was used as a model, and after many months of discussions with other collaborators in Monroe, we decided that we wanted to move forward, she said.

The grant application included the results of a survey of residents in the Orchard East neighborhood conducted by Monroe County Opportunity Program, a participant in the Learning Bank Network.

Stephanie Kasprzak, executive director of the community action agency, said one-on-one interviews with residents provided valuable insight into the social economic issues of the neighborhood.

We found out that employment and education were among the biggest barriers for people living in that neighborhood, she said. The surveys provided the data that we needed to support the Learning Bank Network. We are working in the Orchard East neighborhood to do revitalization efforts, and the Learning Bank Network is one way for us to do that.

Ms. Town said organizers of center hope to have the facility opened in the spring.

The other partners in the project are Monroe County Intermediate School District, Monroe County Adult Basic Education Consortium, Southeast Michigan Community Alliance, Michigan Works!, Monroe County Library System, United Way, Salvation Army, City of Faith, and City of Hope and Opportunity.



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