Long ago, a gust of wintery wind blew open the door to the Neighborhood House, and in walked a little girl, her cheeks tinged blue from the cold.
No one knew exactly from where she came or who she was, but that didn't stop the school's staff from embracing her.
"Warm arms were held out to greet her, hot milk provided, and her thin underwear replaced by warm flannels," according to an account in "Fifty Years of Neighborhood House" published in 1944, "but she was too ill from exposure and lack of food to respond to the children's happy enthusiasm."
The small girl stayed at the Neighborhood House, where she was nursed back to health. The girl, whose father had left her family and whose mother had fallen ill, eventually grew up to become a trusted member of the community.
The exact date that Baby Blue, as she became known, wandered into the Neighborhood Houseis now fuzzy to many, but the story, along with a picture of the girl, still hangs neatly on a Neighborhood House wall. Though much has changed since that black-and-white photo was taken, the Neighborhood House's mission has remained largely the same: helping children and families succeed.
Today, about 130 children spend all or part of their days at Poplar Grove's Neighborhood House for preschool, kindergarten, before- and after-school care and during the summer and school breaks.The organization also provides supervised day care for non-aggressive adults in two other locations.The private, nonprofit serves families on a sliding fee scale based on their income, with families paying an average of $160 to $170 per month, said Jacob Brace, the organization's executive director. Neighborhood House also boasts the state's only private, nonprofit, year-round, accredited preschool program.
It's a preschool program that focuses on learning through hands-on experiences, with emphasis on art, outdoor play, computers, toys and games, sand and water, discovery, cooking, music and movement, among other things.
Kids often choose their own activities, gravitating to different stations set up in each preschool room, said Kelly Condie, preschool and youth program director. On a recent day in teacher Rachel Rodriguez's classroom for 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds, most of the tykes headed to the Play-Doh station, while a few others hung out by the computer and at a drawing station.
"I like to play," said 4-year-old Andy Gonzales as he squashed and shaped the colorful clay.
Volunteers worked with kids at their stations, engaging them in conversation, while Rodriguez individually tested students' fine motor skills at a nearby table, asking them to cut along straight, curved and zigzag lines on a sheet of paper.
Rodriguez said working on such skills now helps prepare the kids for kindergarten.
"They start these skills early so by the time they get up [to kindergarten] they kind of are building on that," she said.
Brace said 100 percent of the Neighborhood House's preschool kids leave the program ready for kindergarten. That's despite about 95 percent coming from low-income homes.
But parents don't just send their kids to Neighborhood House for the academics. They send them there because they consider it a safe, economical place for their children to spend time while they're at work. The center is open 250 days a year, and offers meals before and after school as well as busing to schools for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Susana Coria, a single mother, drops her little girl off at the Neighborhood House preschool each weekday morning as she heads to her job as a restaurant manager. She said the center is "a lot of help."
"She's been learning a lot, English especially," Coria said.
Francisco Miranda, of West Valley City, also drops his 4-year-old and 6-year-old off at the Neighborhood House each day on his way to work as a floor technician in North Salt Lake. There, they eat breakfast each day before school begins.
"We need it," Miranda said. "They help us a lot by caring for our kids during the day."
On a recent day, Miranda and his family stayed late for a Thanksgiving dinner served up by students from Highland's Lone Peak High, who are raising money for the Neighborhood House this holiday season.
The Neighborhood House relies on donations and fees from families to keep running, Brace said.
Though it was founded 118 years ago, the center still remains true to its roots, using the money it collects to try to better the lives of those its serves.
Another photo that hangs in a different hallway shows Neighborhood House children posing for a camera around 1930. In that photo, a little girl in knee-highs and a dress holds a toothbrush. Another small girl holds a bowl of fruit and a little boy in overalls clutches soap and a towel. Together, they represent the Neighborhood House's focus on teaching children hygiene and nutrition, among other things. In short, they represent child welfare.
"These needs," Brace said, "have not changed in 2012."
How to help
O If you wish to donate to Neighborhood House, visit nhutah.org/support-us/