For Wanda Dale, the Cherry Hill Community Center that opened yesterday offers not only day care and parenting classes but also the key to a new life.
Beyond the toys, colorful tiles and nursery posters, Ms. Dale sees hope in the South Baltimore center that could lift her off welfare and into a desired job as a bank teller.
She beamed with confidence as she walked through the building.
"This here is like a timeout; it's very meaningful to me," said the 23-year-old single mother who once lived in a downtown homeless shelter and now resides in Westport Homes, near Cherry Hill.
As Ms. Dale was speaking inside the building, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III were outside cutting a yellow ribbon to officially open the two-story center.
The $1.2 million building is the first "family investment center" to open at a city public housing complex. It is designed to foster self-sufficiency among public housing residents, a Housing Department spokesman said.
"We still have great hopes for public housing in Baltimore -- the best days for public housing are ahead of us," Mr. Schmoke said. "We want to invest in the lives of people in Cherry Hill. This will pay dividends in the future."
The building has a recreation center with a basketball court, a stage, classrooms for parenting classes and colorful, toy-filled nurseries for children. It is the first new construction in any city public housing development in 10 years, a city housing spokesman said. Another center is scheduled to open next year at the O'Donnell Heights complex in Southeast Baltimore.
Sixth District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who represents Cherry Hill, encouraged residents to band together and protect the center from the vandalism and theft that have plagued the public housing complex, now undergoing a $24 million renovation.
"We want to take care of these facilities and not see them trashed as some other developments in the city," Mr. Stukes said. "We've got to change our attitude as to how we take care of our community. Dare to be different because only when you are different can true difference be made."
The center will offer day care almost every day of the year for the youngsters who live in the 1,579 public housing units in Cherry Hill.
While up to 80 children play with toys, read books and learn to count, their parents can go upstairs and take classes in parenting at the Our House Family Support Center, or learn job and career skills at the Office of Employment Development.
Ms. Dale plans to take business classes at the employment development office after she receives her high school equivalency diploma.
Residents Inez Pinkney and Towanda Shell have signed up for parenting classes.
"I want to learn how to budget . . . money and how to develop kids so they can go to school," Ms. Shell said.
"I want to use the family support center so I can have more patience with my children," said Ms. Pinkney, mother of three. "I don't want to take my anger out on them and beat them all the time."