Shovel-ready: Infant Welfare Society of Evanston breaks ground for a new indoor play space at Baby Toddler Nursery.                                          RoundTable photo

On May 16, the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston (IWSE) held a ground-breaking ceremony for its new indoor “Tom Kendall Gross Motor and Play Space” at the Baby Toddler Nursery, 2200 Main St. The new 700-square-foot facility will cost approximately $160,000, and is funded primarily by a Community Development Block Grant grant of $105,000 through the City and by a donation of $50,000 from the George R. Kendall Foundation.

Stephen Vick, Executive Director of IWSE, said, “The gross motor and play space is so critical to us.” He said IWSE’s Baby Toddler Nursery program serves 70 children from birth to 3 years old, and when the weather is inclement, “we really don’t have the indoor space.  It’s not just about play, it’s also about development, and some children that need special support in their gross motor functioning can use that space with our therapists as well.”

Pamela Staples, Site Director of the Baby Toddler Nursery program, said, “Perceptual, motor and physical developments are main cores to help children learn and develop. They are the foundations. This additional space is going to help us to continue to help children move, learn and develop in our program.”

Ms. Staples said Baby Toddler has eight classrooms, three for infants, four for toddlers and one for pre-school.

Mr. Vick added the space can easily hold up to 25 to 30 teachers, and it can be used to do the type of training “that we’re really focusing on right now, which is social and emotional learning.”

Mr. Vick said IWSE has two other sites. The Teen Baby Nursery Program, located in the Family Focus building, 2010 Dewey Ave., serves 16 children of parents ages 14 -23. 

The third site is in Skokie and houses a home visiting program. Tiffany Culpepper, Site Director of the Teen Baby Nursery and Family Support Program, told the RoundTable that the home visit program served 45 families in the last year, and it will serve 60 families in the coming year. She said there is a waiting list for the program and that NorthShore University Health System refers families to the program.

Eighty-five percent of the children served by IWSE are from families that receive subsidies from Early Head Start or other programs and who are “struggling economically,” said Mr. Vick.

“There has been amazing research of late that talks about development and brain architecture and the plasticity of the brain,” said Mr. Vick. “The work that we do in the first three years really lays the foundation for education throughout elementary and high school.

“There’s been a lot of bad rap and a lot of challenge with the higher grades and the disparity that exists in a lot of communities, Evanston included. But what we’re trying to project and say is the work is really in the first three years of life, and if we can get to those children earlier, all of the data, all of the research points to the ability to accelerate that educational process.

“We’re in the heart of the work for equity.”

George Kendall said a trust established by his grandfather is providing some of the funding for the project. “This organization [IWSE] is one of the ones that has brought great benefit to the residents of Evanston. It’s exciting to see it happen. This new building is just another step in that development program.”

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...