Twenty-two teen-age parents who are back in high school because of a support program sponsored by the Parent and Child Center at 2002 14th St. NW joined 200 other angry parents, community residents and center staff members at a meeting last week to protest city plans to erect stores and offices where the center now stands.
The crowd, circulating petitions and at one point chanting "Hell no, we won't go," won a pledge from a city official that the redevelopment project will be delayed to give the center time to plan its future.
Arnold H. Mays, of the city Department of Housing and Community Development, said he came to the meeting to reassure citizens that Mayor Marion Barry has never intended to move the center out of the area where it is now.
"They (the center) shall not be relocated until a suitable location can be found." Mays said in a telephone interview later.
The city plans to sell a parcel of land on 14th Street between U and V streets NW, which it owns and on which the center now stands, to a developer who would be expected to construct an office and retail complex. City officials were moving ahead with the project although provisions had not been made for relocating the Parent and Child Center.
The Parent and Child Center (PCC) is a private, nonprofit child development and parent training center, according to a spokeswoman. It serves 220 preschool children and infants, including 10 percent who are handicapped, and parents who are working, attending school or are in job training programs. The staff of 54 includes 32 parents of children at the center.
"It's not what I'd do with my son, what would I do with myself" without the center? asked an 18-year-old mother.
The woman, who became pregnant while she was in junior high school, said the program enabled her to finish 11th grade last June with the highest marks she has ever made. She is in Lincks (Linking Institutional Networks to Community and Kinship System), one of several programs operated by PCC.
The center was singled out in a General Accounting Office report to Congress this year as producing positive results with "high-risk children," the children of low-income families, and for its family development program.
Tony Jones, a special assistant to the PCC director, said center leaders have been negotiating unsuccessfully with city officials for four years for a new location or new quarters in the same location as part of the redevelopment plans. When the city announced plans to go ahead with the project, parents and community supporters were irate.
"This is a frustrated community," Jones said. $ "That's right," shouted the sweating crowd, jammed into a narrow hall in the center.
PCC supporters passed out copies of a statement that said they refused to give up the center to developers for commercial buildings and that they were tired of being moved around "like cattle" by the District government.
Ruth Rucker, director of the center since it opened in 1968, told the crowd that she met earlier in the day with Robert Moore, director of the housing department, and Mays. Claressa Butler, director of administration of the PCC, and Helen Butler, vice president of the board of directors, accompanied Rucker to Moore's office.
Over the noise of babies crying and the chatter of scores of children waiting in an adjoining room, Rucker reported that Moore gave the Parent and Child Center three options: The developer would include facilities for the PCC in redeveloping the site; the PCC could repurchase and renovate the Manhattan Laundry on Florida Avenue between 13th and 14th streets, or the PCC could build a new center at 14th and Belmont streets.
A city housing department official said at a recent meeting on with redevelopment plans in the Shaw area that the department has offered to provide $450,000 in Community Development Block Grant Funds to the PCC to purchase a site for new facilities. City officials have said these funds can be used only for the purchase of land and cannot be used for construction or renovation.
Charles Richardson, president of the Shaw Project Area Committee (PAC), who conducted the meeting, asked Mays to send him the Dpeartment of Housing and Urban Development guidelines that prohibit the center from using the $450,000 for development of a site. Mays said later the City Council and HUD would have to approve any change in the use of the money. The physical planning committee of the Shaw PAC supports the Parent and Child Center in its dispute with the city and has said it will ask the full PAC to support the center as well.
Rucker said that before last week's meeting, the mayor told her the city does not have money for new construction for the center.
The day after the meeting, Mays said in an interview that the housing department and the Department of Human Resources are cooperating to help the Parent and Child Center. Officials are seeking a way to help the center pay for new quarters, he said.
"If they (the PCC) get a lease commitment or a lease guarantee from the District government, the Department of Human Resources, then a lender might be willing to lend funds for construction of a facility," said Mays.
The Rev. Tom Ness, of the Community of Hope, Church of the Nazarene, and a PCC board member, said he and Rucker have talked with a developer who is willing to enter into a partnership with PCC to construct a new center on the present site, and that they have sent Moore a letter to that effect. Other speakers said they want the PCC to own stock in its new facilities.
Asked whether the city would agree to a six month grace period to allow the PCC time to work out plans, Mays said, "We have no developer at present - no problem with a grace period."
He added that "the city is not fighting the Shaw community and there is no conspiracy."
Still not appeased, the crowd erupted in support of speakers who berated Mays, the city and even the White House.
A parent, handing Mays a pencil and paper, asked him to put his agreements to their requests in writing. Mays replied, "That and 50 cents would get you a ride on the Metro."
Mays said in a telephone interview this week that he expects to soon receive a formal request from the PCC and the Shaw PAC for postponement of the sale of the land to a developer. "I feel reasonably certain that we will give it (the request) favorable consideration," he said.
As last week's stormy meeting came to an end, a mother standing near a sign with photos of children and lettering that read "We (the parents) were the lost generation. Don't let this happen to them," said "We're on payrolls and we're not going back on welfare rolls."