It’s a small coup for the institute, which began working in Watts in 2007 and is best known for the 10 preschool sites it runs in the community. Yet it offers more than just free preschool.
In space once occupied by the closed Los Angeles County South Health Clinic, the institute is pulling together clinical and mental health services, family services such as parenting training, and youth development programs that include art classes and leadership training. Parents walk in the door to sign up for Head Start and often access other needed services.
“Children’s Institute in an arrangement with the county was able to take over the space and we have renovated one of the two buildings in order to provide our blend of youth development and clinical and family support services here at this site,” said Nina Revoyr, the institute’s executive vice president.
The Gehry project will further centralize the institute's services within a campus setting and advance a larger vision to visually transform the low-income neighborhood of Watts.
“Other than the Watts Towers, which are spectacular and beautiful and special, there’s not a lot in the community that speaks of beauty, that speaks of dreaming, that speaks of perseverance and a whimsical sense of possibility,” Revoyr said.
Jacqueline Atkins, a psychologist and executive with the Children's Institute, grew up in Watts and went regularly with her mother to the County South Health Center for routine health needs. She remembers visiting the rundown center for immunizations; it also served as a place to treat sexually transmitted diseases.
“How depressing to realize what every child and every adult, what messages they received every day in this community,” Atkins said.
Jacqueline Ortega, who also grew up in Watts, expects the new design with centralized services will help her and other young mothers.
She and her family utilize many of the Children’s Institute services, from Early Head Start to parenting classes, where she has learned to use timeout instead of shouting or hitting.
“It would be useful to go in one place,” she said. “It’s kind of hard getting two little ones, one falls asleep and then the other, and to be moving about in different places, it’s kind of difficult.”
Plans call for Gehry to deliver his designs by the end of the year. Then begins the institute’s fundraising effort to secure the needed tens of millions of dollars. Donations are already coming in, some of them in the seven-figure range, according to Revoyr.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016, with the campus opening in Watts in 2017.