Leaders of Wilmington's Latin American Community Center (LACC) helped turn the first spades of dirt for a 15,000 sq. ft. Early Learning Center to be built at the corner of 4th and Van Buren streets.
For LACC President and CEO Maria Matos the expansion has been a quarter century in the making.
"I'm so excited, not for myself, but for the kids and the community," said Matos. "I knew we had to add space, especially for the little ones."
But LACC Board Chair Cristina Brounce said don't call it a "daycare."
"They have Spanish immersion for the infants and toddlers, they have dual English education for the older children, they focus on physical health," said Brounce. "Part of this project is to build an outdoor playground so the children have a place to go out."
Brounce said demands to add space had become a critical need even before the pandemic.
"The LACC was fielding between three and five calls per week from families looking for a seat in that childcare center," said Brounce. "That's three to five families a week we had to turn away because we didn't have anymore space. In the summer of 2019 our waiting list for room in one of those classrooms had grown to 50 families."
Brounce said the pandemic just exacerbated the situation.
The facility is expected to increase the number of children the LACC serves under the age of five from 136 to 214.
And the children aren't the only ones being educated.
"The parents are as much of the learning process here at the LACC as the children are," said Brounce. "We counsel them, we educate them."
Matos said the foundation for the new building is a perfect analogy for the LACC.
"It's been the foundation since 1969," said Matos.