Each month we’ll be highlighting a Jumpstart preschool partner as part of our new blog series, Partners in Action. Jumpstart preschool partners vary, including Head Start centers, private and public preschools, early childhood programs at community centers, and even family childcare programs. Teams of Jumpstart volunteers serve in preschool partners’ classrooms twice a week, leading activities that enhance early language, literacy, and social-emotional skills, and providing personalized attention for each child in the room.
At the heart of University Park, the Southern Los Angeles community that surrounds the University of Southern California (USC), sits a childcare center with deep community roots: Hoover Intergenerational Care. Hoover opened in a church basement in 1977, thanks to the tireless work of founder and Board Chair Levi Kingston. In its early years, the center went through multiple moves and funding scares, but since 1988, it has been a mainstay of the community just across the street from the USC campus.
Connie Arthurs, program coordinator at Hoover, joined the organization nearly 40 years ago, shortly after it opened. “The name ‘Hoover Intergenerational Care’ came from the fact that when the agency was established, we were working not only with youth, but also with seniors,” Connie shares. It’s only fitting then, that Hoover’s three preschool classrooms are served by two teams of college student volunteers from USC and one team of older adult volunteers from Jumpstart’s Los Angeles Community Corps program. This is a rare arrangement for a Jumpstart preschool partner, but, as Connie notes, it aligns perfectly with Hoover’s mission statement.
“At Hoover, Jumpstart doesn’t feel like a supplemental program — it feels like it’s truly part of the program that they offer to families.”
Hoover was one of Jumpstart’s first partners when the organization began its program at USC in 2009. USC’s Jumpstart site manager, Erin Croix, raves about the relationship. “We’re really lucky because they’re so open-armed to us and all of our ideas; it’s just a really welcoming center. At Hoover, Jumpstart doesn’t feel like a supplemental program — it feels like it’s truly part of the program that they offer to families.”
This sense of welcoming pervades Hoover. “Hoover has the most integrated school community,” continues Erin. “They have tons of celebrations and the families are super, super involved. Jumpstart Corps members have a different experience there; there’s a family feeling at Hoover.”
One of those Corps members is Brittany Richart, a junior at USC, double majoring in English and East Asian languages and cultures and minoring in teaching English to speakers of other languages. “I started serving at Hoover my freshman year of college. Making relationships grow with both the teachers and the parents there was very, very easy.” Family members of the children at Hoover often come in to watch the end of Jumpstart sessions. The preschool teachers provide strong support to the Jumpstart Corps members while they run their sessions; they sometimes even adapt their lessons to match what the children are learning with Jumpstart that week. “We’re in Jumpstart’s Things That Grow unit, and they started a little community garden outside of their school. When we read The Lion and the Little Red Bird [by Elisa Kleven], they did a little unit on habitats…. It’s made it really fun because we feel like we’re working very closely with the preschool.”
In addition to the relationships they are building with the children, their families, and the teachers and staff at Hoover, Brittany and her team get the added bonus of spending time with the LA Community Corps volunteers. “We try to arrive early to the school because the Community Corps team is usually just finishing their session when we’re arriving. We sit and talk with them — we ask how their session went, and they ask us about ours.” They connect on a more personal level too: “They always give us different life advice!” Brittany understands the value of having the children, college students, and older adults all under the same roof. “They are a huge asset to the community of Hoover. They have so much wisdom. They love the kids so much and the kids love them. We love them. It’s just great.”
“You can see that the volunteers have been well-trained, and they bring a lot of experiences and activities that are really beneficial to the children here and the program.”
Whether the classroom is being served by college students or by older adults, Connie can clearly see the positive impact that Jumpstart is having on her school. “They have some great activities; the staff sees the quality of the activities that Jumpstart brings to our program. I enjoy going into the classroom and just taking a look at what they’re doing. You can see that the volunteers have been well-trained, and they bring a lot of experiences and activities that are really beneficial to the children here and the program.”
When summing up her experience with Jumpstart and serving at Hoover, Brittany notes, “It has taught me a lot about empathy. When you embrace differences — and a little bit of silliness too — it really makes a beautiful classroom culture, and that is something that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”