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New community center brings much-needed child care, opportunity to Spartanburg community

SPARTANBURG—State and local officials joined community leaders to open the Highland Early Learning Center on Tuesday. The new child care center, located in Spartanburg’s Highland community at The Bethlehem Center, will provide free, quality care and education to eligible children.

The Bethlehem Center is one of the Advance Special Ministries of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.

In 2020, South Carolina First Steps awarded $300,000 in state funds to The Bethlehem Center based on the community’s plans to renovate an underutilized, city-owned building and establish a First Steps 4K program serving children from the Highland community and surrounding areas.

“This is life changing for families. We are addressing the critical need for affordable, high-quality early care and education and creating a foundation for lifelong learning for young children and their families,” said Patrena Mims, executive director of The Bethlehem Center.

The Highland Early Learning Center has a large classroom for 18 First Steps 4K students and provides transportation to and from the center for each student. The center plans to expand its services to serve children birth through three in an Early Head Start classroom supported by Spartanburg County First Steps and the Mary Black Foundation.

The building at 400 Highland Avenue was originally constructed as part of the now-demolished Cammie Clagett public housing complex. Donated to the City of Spartanburg by the Spartanburg Housing Authority in 2019, the facility is now managed by the neighboring Bethlehem Center. The nonprofit organization has served the Highland area for 90 years with Youth Programs including – the new Early Learning Center, afterschool and summer youth programs, as well as Community Supportive Service Programs for senior adult services, financial literacy activities, a food pantry, and wellness activities.

“Many people came together in support of this vision, and it is amazing what can happen when communities come together, said Martha Strickland, State Director of 4K. “We know that early learning and increased family supports are very powerful and produce positive outcomes.”

This program will advance ongoing local efforts to revitalize the Highland community. Assistant City Manager, Mitch Kennedy said, “We are forming a solid plan for the future by first investing in our young people.”

Interested families can learn more about The Highland Early Learning Center and First Steps 4K by visiting www.Free4KSC.org.

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