Fifteen years ago, Kelly and David Kaiser took over leadership of a small church in Toledo’s Old South End and began serving a weekly community meal. They enjoyed getting to know their neighbors, but after a time they began to realize families in the area faced challenges that could not be overcome with food alone.
The Kaisers wanted to do more to make a difference in a neighborhood where opportunities were lacking and many families seemed trapped in a cycle of poverty. Seeking a model for inspiration, they looked to New York City educator Geoffrey Canada and his efforts to end intergenerational poverty through the Harlem Children’s Zone.
“His philosophy was that you take a small area, a few city blocks, and you flood that area with services for both parents and children,” says Kelly Kaiser. “So you provide support for the families with parenting, and you start when the families are pregnant with their first child.”
Baby University is born
Now known as Mosaic Ministries, the nondenominational Christian church led by the Kaisers shifted its focus to education with the launch of a program called Baby University in 2010. The 10-week workshop teaches parents best practices and “empowers them to be intentional about their parenting,” says Kelly, who serves as executive director of Baby University and Mosaic Ministries.
Initially funded by a grant from the ProMedica Advocacy Fund of the Toledo Community Foundation, the program has grown into a successful entity independent of the church. Workshops are offered three times a year. Kelly says the program usually enrolls about 25-30 parents, with a good mix of moms, dads and couples. Parents who attend receive a free pack of diapers every week and a $50 gift card upon completion of the program.
Along with learning life skills, parenting strategies and nutrition, the moms and dads who attend develop friendships with one another. Kelly observes. “We see parents building their own support networks and building the skills they need to weather the storms of raising their children and bettering the outcomes for their family,” she says.
Baby University is complemented by a home visitation program, in which a community health worker meets with each family to evaluate their needs and connect them with community resources if they are struggling with housing, employment, food insecurity, domestic violence or other challenges.
Increasing support for families
Building on the success of Baby U, Mosaic Ministries is preparing to embark on the next stage of what Kelly describes as a “cradle to career pipeline” by opening an early childhood education center in the Old South End this spring. Funded by Mosaic Ministries and the Historic South Initiative, the Mosaic Early Learning Center is to provide free, high-quality child care to families with kids ages 0-5.
The center is located in the Mosaic Ministries offices at 860 Orchard Street. Originally used as a school, the building is being remodeled to accommodate infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
The focus remains on serving families concentrated in the Old South End, roughly bordered by the Anthony Wayne Trail, Maumee River, downtown and I-75. “We could serve 500 parents across the city and that would be great, but when you serve 500 parents in one small area, you’re going to change that neighborhood eventually,” Kelly explains.
Transforming a neighborhood
Mosaic Ministries has also worked to foster collaboration between all the agencies and organizations in the Old South End. The church is part of the Broadway Corridor Coalition, a nonprofit that leads initiatives to improve safety, demolish neglected properties and revitalize the neighborhood.
Last summer, Mosaic and other agencies in the Old South End joined together to provide free educational programming five days a week for kids. Plans are in the works to do something similar this summer, according to Kelly.
“We know that where you live really affects your life outcomes,” she says. “We really want the Old South End to become a destination neighborhood where people can get the support they need to change their family outcomes and to get ahead and thrive.”
The next session of Baby University begins April 4. Parents interested in participating can register at https://bit.ly/babyuJan. For more information visit babyutoledo.com or contact Kelly Kaiser at firstname.lastname@example.org.