JCRC volunteers lend a hand at North City day care center

Benji Rowan (left) and Elizabeth Clemons paint one of the walls at the God’s Creation Development Center, a day care in north St. Louis, on Sunday. JCRC and the Community Against Poverty coalition planned the volunteer service day. A second is planned for Dec. 21. Photo: Mike Sherwin

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

As she lays a coat of paint on a wall at God’s Creation Development Center, Cheryl Whatley of Creve Coeur knows she’s volunteering her time, but it is the staff’s time about which she seems most concerned.

“They had to take all of the toys and all of the furniture and move it before we ever got here,” the smiling Shir Hadash congregant said. “They’ve already done a day’s work.”

Thanks to the Jewish Community Relations Council, Whatley and a handful of other volunteers were able to help the center’s teachers and others from the north St. Louis neighborhood keep the day care center licensed by assisting with physical improvements. On Sunday afternoon, the group helped paint the interior of the brick building near Kingshighway Boulevard and West Florissant Avenue. The center serves about 54 children from 6 weeks to 12 years of age. 

“It is a licensed center but, to maintain licensure, it has to be repainted – every wall,” said Renee Marver, chairwoman of the council’s Community Against Poverty (CAP) coalition. The volunteer effort is part of Helping our Community’s Children Flourish, CAP’s project for early childhood development. 


“We’ve brought together a cadre of volunteers, people interested in seeing that this center reaches its required level,” Marver said.

The effort was part of a three-year partnership with United for Children, a group that identifies high quality, functioning child care operations in need of facility assistance. The next step was collecting donations for paint, some of which was donated by individuals and groups. 

The volunteers are also working to raise money for new classroom flooring. The volunteers plan to return next week to do more work. (See infobox on page 10A for information on volunteering.)


It’s the second such project the committee has handled (the last one was in 2013).

“We’ll just keep doing this as centers are identified,” said Marver, who hopes the program’s resources grow enough to do more than one project each year.

“We feel that child care centers in inner-city neighborhoods that are challenged to keep their facilities up do not have the resources, but they are available, accessible and affordable,” she said. “The community should support them so that families that live in neighborhoods that need child care to go to work, school or wherever have it, that it is [good] quality … and the facility is safe and attractive to children and families.”

Marver said the JCRC’s efforts on the issue wouldn’t be limited to simply brightening walls.

“We will also advocate for more resources from the government,” she said. “We underfund early child care in the state of Missouri and the country. It should be a priority.”

Marver said the private and public sectors should work together to ensure every child has a quality early education.

“When you get a good start, you do better,” she said. “You go on to high school and on to a trade school or college. You become a productive citizen. So it’s an economic issue as well.”

Regina Carter of Florissant has run the center since creating it five years ago. She said the facility is a great help to local single-parent households where the head of the family may also hold down the job that accounts for a home’s main income. She hopes the improvements will not only get her license renewed but also put God’s Creation on a path to accreditation for Head Start funding.

“I’m really grateful. We are working together as a team,” said Carter, who has been working in child care for 14 years. “This is the first time that I’ve ever gotten assistance from another organization, so it means a whole lot to me.”

Marver stressed the project involved two parts of the community joining forces.

“This is not charity,” she said. “This is a partnership to help, and that’s what you see here today. We’re working together.”

Whatley, the voluntter, said that helping out isn’t just an aspect of Jewish values but also human values.

“It’s certainly our obligation to help other people and to be engaged in the community,” she said. “It is important for us to promote education, and education begins with the very youngest people.”

Central Reform Congregation member Maris Berg of St. Louis said she also believes that the effort is vital.

“For us to help license a good day care is very important and probably one of the best things we can do in the community,” she said.

For some of the participants, it was a family affair. Karen Sher and her daughter Tamar, 16, of Clayton, came to lend a hand.

“We saw the opportunity through an email from the JCRC, and my daughter is really into community-service projects, so I thought this would be a really fun thing to do,” said Sher, her hands streaked with red paint. “This is the first time we’ve done it, but we are excited to continue to do it in the future.”

Tamar said it felt good and gave her an opportunity to meet a diverse group of individuals.

“You bring everyone together into one space, and it is a really cool experience to talk to different people,” said Tamar, who attends CRC with her mother. Karen Sher said it was all about tikkun olam.

“We are a part of one big community, and we should all be helping one another to move it forward and transform it so it is a positive, wonderful, vibrant place to live in,” she said.

Second volunteer day

The JCRC/Community Against Poverty coalition is seeking volunteers from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21, for work at an early child care and after-school program at 5474 N. Kingshighway Boulevard. Volunteers will paint classrooms so the center can meet Missouri licensing requirements.  Volunteers under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. No experience is necessary. To sign up and for more information, email Gail Wechsler at [email protected] or call 314-442-3894.