Whatcom Center for Early Learning aids kids with developmental delays
When it comes to early intervention for toddlers and infants with disabilities and developmental delays, the iconic “Big Blue House” in Bellingham’s Lettered Streets Neighborhood is being joined by “The Little Brick House” in Ferndale.
The Whatcom Center for Early Learning, a nonprofit organization that has more than doubled in use by local families and in staff members in recent years, is now twice as large with regard to facilities.
A remodeled facility at 2185 Ferndale Terrace, not far from Ferndale High School, will begin serving north Whatcom County families at the end of September.
Bellingham resident Mark Moder, who has entered his third year as executive director, couldn’t be more excited over the success of a year-long fundraising campaign for the expansion.
“We purchased a former teacher’s home and land in Ferndale for $500,000 and for another $500,000 we remodeled and expanded it,” he says. “Half of our staff will now be based there and half in Bellingham. There are two buildings (with about 4,700 feet combined), one for classes and one for the offices.”
“We do a lot of our work with children from birth to 3 years old in the homes of our clients, so this will be especially useful for north county clients.”
The “Big Blue House” at the corner of H and Girard streets in Bellingham has been bursting with activity since classes since its purchase in the 1990s. The Center for Early Learning has served the community’s youngest children for nearly half a century.
A tour of the building and grounds is fascinating, since one might not realize the amazing variety of educational tools that can be used to help children with special needs.
Moder wrote 12 grant proposals and 10 of them have produced $360,500, with donations from: M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, $200,000; Norcliffe Foundation, $30,000; Phillips 66 Refinery, $25,500; Chuckanut Health Foundation, $25,000; Jordan Fund, $5,000; Moccasin Lake Foundation, $5,000; Whatcom Community Foundation, $10,000; First Federal Community Foundation, $50,000; Jansen Foundation, $5,000; and The Glaser Foundation, $5,000.
Individual donations totaled $42,934, and the center used its own funds totaling $586,848.
“We’re thankful to all the foundations, businesses and individuals who were very generous with their help in this project,” Moder says.
The new space in Ferndale isn’t expected to be the last.
Moder says the goal is to build in different communities in the coming years, such as Lynden and Nooksack Valley, to help those parts of the county and to cut down on the amount of time families have to travel to access some of the Whatcom Center for Early Learning’s programs.
“Our primary program involves early learning for kids with at least a 25 percent delay in at least one of six areas of development,” he says. “These areas are social and emotional development, fine and gross motor skills, expressive and receptive communication, and adaptive skills.
“For example, we have kids with Down syndrome, kids who are on the autism spectrum, and kids with a communication challenge.”
The focus is on helping children as soon as possible, when their brains are malleable, to give them the best chance for maximizing their opportunities in life.
“Really, if you want to make a generational difference, you’ve got to get in when they’re young,” Moder says. “That’s in everybody’s best interest.”
Moder says there are 31 staff members, up from 14 when he became executive director. The majority have master’s degrees and two hold doctorates. During the past year (the school stays open in summer), more than 600 families were served.
Classes at both facilities consist of a maximum of 10 children and their caregivers.
“Parents (and other adults) get a chance to connect and make friendships along with the children,” Moder says. “(This is meaningful because) a parent might feel isolated and alone in dealing with a child at home.”
Erin Malone, the center’s outreach and development director, notes that classes fill quickly.
“Classes here are incredibly popular,” she says, anticipating the same will be true of the Ferndale facility. “The new facility is a real moment for our organization.”
For information about services or donations, contact Malone at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-671-3660 ext. 100. To learn about a referral to early intervention services, call Single Entry Access for Services at 360-715-7485.
An open house for the new Ferndale space is set for 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at 2185 Ferndale Terrace.
Kie Relyea contributed to this report.