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The Hartford Neighborhood Center prioritizes school readiness for local children

From a local food pantry to school readiness programs, the center provides available and affordable educational, cultural, social, and recreational opportunities.

HARTFORD, Conn. — The Harford Neighborhood Center in the Frog Hollow Neighborhood has been standing strong since 1872, helping local children prepare for school.

"It started as a community center for their children to come here for afterschool care, and over the years, it has grown to the needs of the community," said Cora Mercer.

Mercer is the Executive Director at the Hartford Neighborhood Center. She said she has witnessed it grow and expand over the years.

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With more than half of the neighborhood identifying as Hispanic or Latino and many of those families dealing with financial turmoil, Mercer said their mission was clear.

"We needed a place for our children to start preparing for school," Mercer explained. "We needed a place to help out the mother and the father or even the single parents; we needed a place here that are seniors can come to and access whatever their needs may be."

From a local food pantry to school readiness programs, the center provides available and affordable educational, cultural, social, and recreational safe haven opportunities to suit the neighborhood's diverse community.

Kristin Berry, School Readiness Administrator at the Hartford Neighborhood Center, said having these programs accessible and affordable is vital. 

"I always say I never want money to be a reason why your child does not come to our center," Berry said. 

RELATED: Hispanic Alliance of Southeastern Connecticut provides an open space for community members

Mercer said that 90% of clients and families of the center are Hispanic and come from different backgrounds, creating a melting pot of cultures for students. 

"We have children from different countries," said Yazmin Colon Diaz, Pre School Teacher at the center. "We have families from Puerto Rico, Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala."

With the center centrally located for walking accessibility and staff reflecting on the community, teachers and admin said they hear and see its impact on the community. 

RELATED: Latinas and Power Corp. empowers Hartford students for Career and Opportunity Day

"They are very happy because they feel comfortable," said Colon Diaz. 

Diaz helps families translate important information and help address language barriers, as she is bilingual.

"Us being here is important," stressed Berry. "For those parents to be able to have that and be able to come in and know that people are going to understand them and welcome them into the community."

The Hartford Neighbor Center has a food pantry open 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday by appointment only. Click here for more information.

Raquel Harrington is the race and culture reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at rharrington@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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