PATERSON, NJ- Tucked away on a busy floor above the Paterson Museum, 4Cs of Passaic County may not always have the exposure of other big name non-profits, but a sweeping array of services and true passion for the betterment of children have firmly established it as one of the most important in the city.
Founded in 1971, North Jersey Community Coordinated Child Care, Inc. began as a small, grassroots effort, but has blossomed over the years into a large-scale operation as the New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS), Division of Family Development, designated Child Care Resource and Referral Agency for Passaic County.
As a referral agency, 4Cs helps match people with the help and services they need. In FY 2017-2018, they processed 60,000 calls and 20,000 walk ins—a massive workload for a staff of 56 people.
“It can be very stressful,” Coleen Stevens Porcher, CEO, told TAPinto Paterson. “But we remind ourselves that our purpose here is to help children and families.”
Services include an array of assistance programs for parents and kids, including childcare subsidies, food assistance, CPR and First Aid training, parenting workshops, summer camp, Child Development Associate training, sponsoring and hosting community events, as well as a number of other benefits, all personalized and chosen on a case-by-case basis.
A majority of 4Cs’ funding comes through the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG)—a federal program that distributes grants for low-income families to pay for childcare.
4Cs uses this funding to help providers, parents, and children to offer and receive high-quality child care without the spending it often requires.
Early Childhood Development
The largest portion of 4Cs’ programming is dedicated to providing child care to parents who need help caring for and educating their kids.
“It really begins in utero, in partnership with maternal fetal health programs,” says Porcher, who is passionate about the positive effects of early childhood education. The data backs her up. Research shows that an early education has positive effects on, among others, future earnings, physical health, and crime rates.
Lamenting that it is not necessarily administered equally, especially when it comes to the child’s racial and economic background, Porcher refers to education as “the universal equalizer.” One of the ways 4Cs works to correct this is through the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which offers substantial subsidies for parents seeking help to pay for child care.
To qualify, parents must be Passaic County residents, meet specific income requirements (generally 200% of the federal poverty level), be working full time or enrolled in school or in job training, and may be required to contribute to the cost of care. Eligible children must be age 13 or younger (below age 19 if the child qualifies as special needs), and US citizens or permanent residents. More information on the program can be found here.
Though it may seem intimidating, 4Cs does not expect families to deal with the program alone. “We’ll hold their hands through the process,” says Maria Guadalupe, Program Director of Education and Provider Services at 4CS.
Those whom 4Cs has successfully helped to enter the program receive an average of $5,000 per child and $8,300 per infant. Through the organization, 10,331 children currently benefit from the subsidies, though this is still only scratching the surface of its ultimate goal: full enrollment. 4Cs estimates that over 28,000 children in Passaic County could benefit from CCAP. It hopes to cut into this figure through community outreach programs to inform the public about possible benefits.
Porcher says that she sees this program, and the use of early childhood education, as a key first step in “addressing root cause issues to equity and poverty.”
All Are Welcome
Though everyone may not be eligible for its subsidies and other financial program, 4Cs encourages anyone seeking assistance to reach out regardless of whether he or she qualifies for CCDBG assistance or not. All who contact 4CS will be helped or referred to an agency that can.
4CS stresses that it does not report to any federal immigration agencies, and that undocumented residents are welcome to contact them without fear of recrimination.
Philomise LaGuerre, Manager of Community Outreach and Development, says that staff always tries to “go the extra mile” to help every single person who reaches out. She says that even when a 4CS employee can’t directly assist a person, they will not only refer them to an agency that can, but will also follow up with that agency to make sure the constituent is taken care of.
A majority of 4CS staff is bilingual, an important distinction for an organization that represents such a diverse community. They have staff available who speak, among others: Spanish, Arabic, Bengali, French, Italian, Hindi, Urdu, and Gujarati.
LaGuerre tells a story of a family who had recently moved from Venezuela and contacted 4Cs for help. She proudly describes how their team was able to help the family receive early child care assistance, ESL classes, and other training. She, along with the rest of the administrative team, believes strongly that every family in the underserved community could benefit from speaking with someone at 4CS.
A Personal Touch
Much of this dedication may come from the fact that though the members of the 4Cs team all come from different backgrounds, they share a universal appreciation of child care.
Porcher says her path to 4Cs began even before she was born, through her grandmother, who she describes as “a champion of universal primary education” in Jamaica. She credits this relationship with helping her learn the importance of education.
This is a commonality among the people that make up 4Cs’ team: a personal understanding of the importance of its work. Maria Guadalupe, who has been with the organization for twenty years, knew that she wanted to work with children since she started babysitting her nieces and nephews at just eight years old.
LaGuerre says she is passionate about early childhood programs because she feels her own parents, immigrants from the Caribbean, could have benefited immensely had they known of external resources, programs like 4Cs. Her job as Community Outreach Manager allows her to make sure others will have the chance that she missed.
Mariela Perez, Director of Subsidy and Family Services, actually went through the subsidy program herself as a parent.
“There’s a deep personal touch. We try to imagine ourselves in their shoes,” says Porcher. “I’ve worked in other non-profits, and I’m telling you, it’s deeper here.”
“We work as a unit, as one,” says Guadalupe. “We’re there for each other, which makes us stronger for the community.”
Staff members are known to go well beyond the job description when it comes to providing care. Porcher tells a story about Rosa, who has been with 4Cs for 30 years. When dealing with a client who had been through an incredibly difficult experience, Rosa showed incredible compassion, not only helping her obtain assistance, but actually welcoming the client into her home.
“It’s probably not something I would have let her do,” laughs Porcher. “But this is what love looks like…Rosa describes it as ‘part of why I’m here on this earth.’”
It is this unequivocal dedication that 4Cs prides itself on above all else.
Childcare as A Business
Working with children may begin with a passion for childcare, but 4Cs helps community members take their dedication a step further by giving them the tools needed to create a business.
Many Paterson residents may qualify to become a registered Family Child Care (FCC) provider, which allows them to register as a business that can care for up to five children at a time in their own home. 4Cs works with potential providers to help them set up a sustainable business.
To qualify as a registered FCC provider, you must:
Be at least 18 years old and a resident of Passaic County
Be able to care for children in your home
Attend an orientation and Pre-Service Training (offered through 4Cs)
Complete documentation and pay a $25 registration fee
Complete CPR and First Aid Training (also offered through 4Cs)
Join the New Jersey Workforce Registry System and attend training classes
If these requirements are met, 4CS will guide applicants through the application and training process, help answer all questions, and sometimes even provide equipment and materials.
4CS stresses that those interested only in money may come out disappointed, but that starting a home based childcare program can be a viable option for those already taking care of children and people who feel strongly about childcare.
“We want to encourage people who have a background [in caring for children],” says Porcher. “This could be a business for them, but they’re also doing a service for the community.”
She says that many areas in Passaic County, particularly Paterson, are considered child care deserts, areas that are lacking certified providers. 4CS does whatever it can to help its providers succeed, often donating supplies, hosting free training, and answering questions that arise along the way.
A Complete Education
Looking to quantify all of the work that 4Cs does for the community can be exhausting, simply because of how many programs it participates in. In addition to previously mentioned programs, 4Cs operates its own accredited vocational school that offers classes in CPR/First Aid, Parenting, and a number of other classes dedicated to improving the quality of child care.
4Cs also recently partnered with Paterson's First Lady Farhanna Sayegh, New Jersey's First Lady Tammy Murphy, and other community leaders to promote literacy through the Paterson Reads Program abd get the word out about the many programs that support children and families.
“We have seen how the lack of literacy has made it difficult for families to come together,” says Guadalupe. “We promote that within our classes, and teach providers to promote literacy too.”
This may be the best way to classify the kind of operation 4Cs runs; one that has its hands in everything related to the betterment of children.
Porcher says that in a perfect world, 4Cs wouldn’t need to exist, every child could be taken care of, but until necessary resources become accessible and affordable for all, 4Cs intends to be there to pick up the slack because, as she puts it, “If you give children the right start, then you can transform their lives.”
To apply for a program through 4Cs or to find out what may be available to help you, call (973) 684-1904, visit the office at Two Market St. on the 3rd floor or click here.
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