- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2009

“Drink your milk,” said the teacher in Spanish. The 2-year-old reached again for the glass before her, and after several gulps earned a milk moustache. Meanwhile, outside on the playground, teachers blew soap bubbles toward little hands eager to pop them. “Bubbles!” the children cried in English.

The large house where these toddlers play and are taught in two languages is home to a nonprofit that came under threat in November during the housing and economic crises. The House of Mercy’s Rosemount Center, an early childhood development center in Mount Pleasant, found itself scrambling for funds to pay the bills for a previous, much-needed $6 million renovation. Its endowment had sunk in the crisis, its previous loan had fallen through, and it was looking for a new one.

“And in November that was not easy to do,” said Barbara Jones, president of the House of Mercy’s Board of Trustees.

Cardinal Bank stepped up to the plate and extended a loan to the nonprofit, allowing the House of Mercy and the Rosemount Center to stay afloat.

“We find it important to be supporting the community,” said Kathleen Carr, president of Cardinal Bank Washington.

House of Mercy, the oldest Episcopalian charity in Washington, has been serving the District since 1884. Its origins began with a meeting in St. John’s Church - the so-called Church of the Presidents, across from the White House.

The Rosemount Center, formerly a home for troubled girls and unwed mothers, changed its focus to young children more than 30 years ago, but still operates in the old home that was built in 1911. After almost a hundred years of use, the house desperately needed an update. Cardinal Bank is now supporting the Rosemount Center as it pays for its renovation.

And the center is supporting 323 families in the Washington area, many of them low-income. It offers Early Head Start and Head Start curriculums for children ages 6 months to 5 years, as well as home-based programs to help meet the needs of struggling families. Rosemount currently enrolls 147 children, and hundreds more remain on the waiting list, said Ms. Jones.

“There is a crying need for [the center],” said Jacques Rondeau, president of the Rosemount Center.

Marsha Riggio, interim program director, agreed, saying Washington lacks free early childhood development programs.

“D.C.-wide this is an issue, especially for those under the age of 3,” she said.

It costs about $20,000 a year per child for the Early Head Start program, which serves infants and toddlers, and $9,000 a year per child for Head Start, aimed at preschool-age children, Mr. Rondeau said.

The Rosemount Center stands alone in the District in offering these programs for free in a bilingual setting. Seventy percent of children enrolled come from Spanish-speaking families, and children in every class have two teachers, one English-speaking and one Spanish-speaking. Many of them stay in the programs for all five years, and then enter kindergarten with bilingual abilities.

“The House of Mercy is critical to the well-being of low-income families,” Ms. Carr of Cardinal Bank said.



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