Our Story

Once upon a time..

…there were three dreamers who wanted to create an early childhood community for their children and community, one founded on values, diversity and child-centered learning. As part of the New Haven Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), these dreamers had the inspiration and support they needed, because their Meeting had been an active part of the community for more than 60 years.

 

In the fall of 2000, the Meeting came together to discuss work they could do as a group in their community. As they investigated options, they discovered a tremendous unmet need for high quality daycare. The constraints of poverty cause many of New Haven’s children to start their formal education academically behind more affluent peers.

 

Founding member Linda Miller recalls her initial journey. ” I loved the idea of starting the school. But, as a founding member of Cold Spring School, I knew that it took a lot of time and energy to do something like this. And yet, at the same time, it was such a transforming event in my life, my son’s life and eventually all of the Cold Spring families’ lives that I wanted to be part of that type of movement again. As we began working on Friends Center together, I began to have the feeling this was something that I had to do.”

Greg Moschetti, another founding member, explains, “I wanted to do something that would help children in the neighborhood learn and grow and I wanted the Meeting to be more firmly rooted in the community where it is situated. I believe that there is something very special about Quaker education, especially when it is coupled with a multi-cultural, multi-racial, socio-economic mix of participants.”

For third founding member, Michael Anderson, the work was also personal. “I wanted my family to be in a cooperative school that was diverse, where racial, cultural, and economic barriers could be crossed in the shared goal of caring for small children. For me, my motivation for continuing to work on this after my kids were too old to attend, was my conviction about the benefits of creating a high-quality center for early childhood care with diverse families working together cooperatively.”

 

In 2007, after much planning and preparation, Friends Center for Children was incorporated as a non-sectarian, year-round, early childhood care program for children from diverse socio-economic, cultural and racial backgrounds. Originally located at the Friends Meetinghouse in Fair Haven Heights, Friends Center initially served 4 children and their families.

 

 

The first few years were transitional. The dream was alive but reality set in. The program searched for leadership and after two years of exploration, Friends Center welcomed Executive Director Allyx Schiavone. In 2009 Allyx partnered with the Quaker founders to achieve three goals: create a robust progressive, child-centered program; get that program on sond financial footing; and find a permanent home for the program, and the work began.

 

Between 2010-2013 the growth was immense. Friends Center grew from 4 to 18 children and embarked on a four year, 4.425-million-dollar capital campaign. In December of 2013, Friends Center broke ground on a new, state-of–the-art, LEED certified, 9,200 square foot building. Construction was swift with Enfield Builders and Leland Torrance Enterprises leading the project. On August 26, 2014 the new building opened and became a home away from home for 56 children and their families.

With a new facility to support its newly defined mission, educate children, empower families, inspire teachers, engage community, embrace diversity, Friends Center quickly reached its initial capacity, and began renovations to create additional spaces to help meet the persistent and urgent need for high-quality early childhood care. In 2015, the Center opened a new preschool room on its upper level. Shortly after, in 2016, the Center relocated its music and movement studio to create an additional Infant/Toddler classroom.

Recognizing that more must be done to help close Connecticut’s gaping Achievement Gap (the disparity in academic performance between children of different socio-economic groups), Friends Center looked for new and creative ways to expand and replicate its program. Friends Center also joined together with Trust for Learning and Bank Street College of Education in a new and ambitious initiative, New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD), aimed to increase quality and access to early childhood care and education for all 14,800 New Haven children age 0 – 8.

In 2018, to accommodate new school-readiness slots from the State, Friends Center transformed its lower-level into a temporary classroom, while continuing to progress in its collaborations to open new doors of access.

 

Making strides to expand access to high-quality early childhood education, Friends Center opened a new center on Blake Street in the fall of 2019.  Located near West Rock park, the new center serves 36 children and their families with two infant/toddler classrooms, one preschool classroom, and nine full-time staff, including a Site Director and an Emotional Wellbeing Coordinator.

In 2020, Covid interrupted the patterns, plans and operations of Friends Center. During the initial lockdown, both locations closed for 8 weeks. Propelled by the urgent need for early care, especially for essential workers, Friends Center re-opened its doors at a limited capacity, with many changes to our physical space and procedures to keep its community healthy and safe. In the fall, Friends Center invited more families, but still operated at reduced numbers.
Long before the pandemic, Friends Center had been wrestling with the systemic  issue of inadequate compensation for infant and preschool teachers. Seeking an alternative solution of raising teachers’ income without shifting the balance of cost onto families, Friends Center launched the Teacher Housing Plan, which provides free housing to teachers, allowing them to use rent savings to pay off school or personal loans and work toward financial independence or home ownership. By  the end of 2020, four apartments were ready to welcome teachers home.
Like all throughout the world, Friends Center experienced many losses during the pandemic, including staff departures, learning and development hours for our children, finances, and — most tragically — deaths of family and community members. But we also found new depths of resilience, hope and appreciation — for our educators, families, community and supporters. As we continue to navigate the ever-changing environment and  “new normals,” Friends Center remains committed to maintaining and expanding its mission, giving more children access to high-quality learning experiences in their early years when it matters the most. Plans progress to open a new Center  in the newly built Mill River Crossing Development on Grand Avenue. Created in partnership with Elm City Communities (The Housing Authority of the City of New Haven), the new center will serve 52 children and their families, and include a workforce development partnership, helping prospective new educators — who experience barriers to education — obtain their Child Development Associate Certificate with paid field experience at Friends Center.