Children Inc. and CityLink view quality child care as a critical step on the path out of poverty

'It is a match made in heaven'
How this child care center helps kids, parents
How this child care center helps kids, parents
Posted at 8:00 AM, Mar 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-28 21:45:44-04

CINCINNATI -- Arethea Holt was in a bind. She had an appointment with a financial counselor at CityLink Center in the West End but didn't have anyone to watch her little boy.

That's when the staff at CityLink told her about Children Inc.'s Visions Early Learning Center, which was located in the same building as her financial education classes. She was able to drop off her son at Visions, where the teachers treated little Arenell just like one of their full-time students.

"After they sat with Arenell, they said, ‘We've got space, and he's so intelligent,'" Holt said with a smile. Her son, who is now 3 years old, has been enrolled ever since.

The Children Inc.'s Visions Early Learning Center preschool classroom was a busy place on March 26, 2018.

That's the beauty of Visions Early Learning Center, a program that moved to CityLink Center last fall to become part of a two-generation approach to helping parents build better lives for themselves and their children.

"Our data shows that while child care may not be as pervasive a barrier to individuals, it is acute," said Johnmark Oudersluys, executive director of CityLink Center. "If a parent doesn't have child care for a young child, it really inhibits their ability to engage in any further steps for their own education, for their own employment and to really stabilize their lives and the life of the family."

Visions now has 31 children enrolled. It also has five spots each day for "drop-ins" whose parents are participating in classes or programs at CityLink and need child care for a few hours or the day, said Children Inc. CEO Shannon Starkey-Taylor.

Visions works to ensure that the parents of its young students are enrolled in programs at CityLink at the same time CityLink refers parents in need of child care to Visions.

"We're seeing outcomes that are not just relevant for children, but for parents as well," Starkey-Taylor said. "That's what we want. We want the parents and families to flourish together."

‘Match made in heaven'

CityLink Center's goal is to work alongside clients and offer the services and programs they need to make positive changes in their lives. The idea is that social services are more effective when they work together, and CityLink Center is home to programs and services operated by more than a dozen nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

But CityLink's founders knew even before the center opened its doors in 2012 that child care would be an important part of their work, Oudersluys said.

For its first several years of operation, CityLink ran its own child care program to meet clients' need for "drop-in" day care while parents of young children took part in programs and classes.

That offering expanded when Children Inc. approached CityLink about relocating the Visions Early Learning Center to the CityLink building on Bank Street in the West End. Before that, Children Inc. had been partnering with Cincinnati Public Schools by offering a child care service for teen parents in a school district facility on Ezzard Charles Drive, Starkey-Taylor said.

When Cincinnati Public Schools needed the space that the Visions program had been using, Children Inc. started shopping for a new location in the West End.

CityLink Center in the West End opening in 2012.

Starkey-Taylor was familiar with CityLink and its work and started inquiring about a partnership.

"It is a match made in heaven," she said.

Now the parents whose children go to Visions not only have quality child care, Starkey-Taylor said, they also have resources to help them on their journey to become more self-sufficient.

"I think through partnerships is the only way that we'll see reduction in poverty," she said.

‘It made me want to do more'

LaShawnda Pankey said the combination has helped her family.

Pankey lives in the West End with her four children and her nephew. Her youngest, 4-year-old DaMari, goes to Visions Early Learning Center at CityLink while Pankey works to get her GED diploma.

"It helped me a whole lot while I'm trying to get myself together as far as getting my GED," she said. "I went back to school for my children. But not just for them, for me, too."

Ultimately, Pankey wants to get the training she needs to become a sterile processing technician so she can work in the health care industry.

Holt has been working in the health care industry for years as a state-tested nurse's aide. Her goal is to go back to school and finish her nursing degree, she said.

So far Brittany Sisson, Holt's service coordinator at CityLink, has helped her get vision and dental care through CityLink for herself and her kids. Sisson also helped Holt connect with a women's group to talk through day-to-day challenges of being a working mom with four kids.

The fact that Visions is located in the CityLink Center itself has been a bonus, Holt said.

Timeka Smith-Jackson, center, paused for a photo after picking up her children Marziah (left) and Marcion (right).

"It was so convenient, it made me want to do more," she said. "It was nice to know I had everything in one place."

The whole point, after all, is to work with clients to create a plan to help them move forward in their lives, Sisson said.

"CityLink's mission is to show God's love to those in need by providing an integrated path to holistic life change," Sisson said.

And for many parents with young children, dependable, quality child care is a critical step on that path.

More information about Children Inc.'s Visions Early Learning Center is available online.

More information about CityLink Center is available online, too.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region -- to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to

To read more stories by Lucy, go to To reach her, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.