Happy Workers’ birthday bonanza

Happy Workers Birthday Bonanza

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –This year marks the 85th anniversary of Happy Workers Learning Center here in St. Petersburg. Located at 920 19th St. S., Happy Workers is in the business of early learning to prepare preschool aged children for academic successes come time for the public school system.

Last Sat., Aug 23, community members, parents and their children congregated at Happy Workers for a day filled with everything from games to a petting zoo. Goats, chickens, horses and even a rabbit graced the grounds, the children enjoying the hands-on activity. Pony rides were offered to the happy children along with face painting opportunities. TASCO was also there providing the soundtrack for a day of fun.

At noon the activities shut down, but the festivities continued. Moving to the refurbished and historical Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. building for the birthday program, Executive Director Cherie Green started things off with a few words acknowledging the crowd of people who came out to celebrate before introducing Vice-Chairperson Sharon Snow who serves on the Happy Workers SMART (An acronym standing for: Strategic, Measurable, Accountability, Respectful and Team) board of directors.

“We will probably have other activities to get Happy Workers exposure,” said Snow who touted the center’s recently concluded summer program. Students were exposed to various curriculum guided fieldtrips and showed improvement in their testing scores from the beginning of the summer program till it recently wrapped up. “It’s been around for 85 years and we want to be around another 100 years,” she said.

Executive Director of the SMART board, Maria L. Scruggs placed her positive spin on the afternoon highlighting the staff and the dedication of the board in striving to get the word out about the importance of early education.

“One of the things that we have to do is raise money,” she said citing the cost of education and the amount of dollars that Happy Workers receives from the Early Learning Coalition and the United Way, their main sponsors. She states it just isn’t enough to cover staff salaries and the 95 percent of families who attend the school and are on subsidized care. “That’s just the reality.”

Title sponsors Amerigroup and St. Petersburg College were also in attendance and received a shout out for their contributions.

Preschool owner and champion of early childhood education, Arthurene Williams, who has continued with her and her late husband’s mission to educate before entering kindergarten, was honored by Scruggs who admits she has leaned on the community leader. Scruggs has needed advice and guidance more than a few times since stepping in as the fearless leader of the Happy Workers board.

“Some people say, ‘Aren’t you all competitors?’ No we’re not,” voiced Scruggs who believes the bond that both she and Williams share is due to their commitment to investing in every child, regardless where they attend preschool. She has, “the same commitment and passion to see all our babies do well.”

Scruggs preached to those gathered of changing the culture of education. She called on everybody who offers educational opportunities for children to come together and set the standard of excellence, to invest in every child.

She acknowledged that the public school system cannot deal with the myriad of issues that families face and still guarantee a quality education. In her job working in the criminal justice system Scruggs sees the toll a lack of education has, especially amongst black youth. So she has committed herself to making an investment on the forefront.

“Let’s begin to put the work and the emphasis on quality childhood education,” she urged hoping her words will reach legislators and the community full of preschool aged children. “We can no longer babysit, we cannot.”

Before winding down the afternoon with cake and ice cream and another run at the festive activities provided for the 85th anniversary celebration of Happy Workers Learning Center, Scruggs managed to get in one last plug for backing education.

DRESS, which is an acronym for Directors Reaching for Excellence in south St. Petersburg, was started by Williams and has Scruggs’ full support. She put everyone on alert about upcoming group meetings and suggested they start getting involved.

“I don’t take it lightly,” she said still discussing supporting education. “I get real crazy about our babies. I know what they can do.”

Under Scruggs’ leadership and the boards’ tireless commitment, Happy Workers Early Learning Center has tripled their enrollment and increased their revenue by 20 percent. All the classrooms at the learning center have been redone and the center has purchased evidence-based curriculum so that parents can be assured their children are receiving the best preschool experience and are ready to enter the public school system.

Congratulations on 85 years of excellence!

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com.

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