Ribbon cutting ceremony held for Next Generation Learning Center

MANISTEE — “It’s all about the kids.”

Those five words summed up the feelings of the many people in attendance when the Next Generation Learning Center held a ribbon cutting on Thursday afternoon. The ceremony opened a new chapter in early

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Family Services director Jason Cross and Next Generation  Learning Center administrator Holly Karlsen are joined by Ogema Larry Romanelli and tribal council members to cut the ribbon officially opening the Next Generation Learning Center on Thursday.

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Family Services director Jason Cross and Next Generation Learning Center administrator Holly Karlsen are joined by Ogema Larry Romanelli and tribal council members to cut the ribbon officially opening the Next Generation Learning Center on Thursday.

childhood care and education in Manistee County.

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Family Services Director Jason Cross said the ribbon cutting brought together three years of hard work by many people in turning the new learning center into a reality.

“The most important thing is to thank everyone who was involved in this,” said Cross. “It started three years ago with an idea that was to fill the need to eliminate a barrier for those folks in the community who work. We brought the right people to the table to make sure we got it done.”

Cross thanked the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the many people for supporting their efforts. The tribe provided funding as did a grant from the Kellogg Foundation and several others.

“I think we have created something that is going to be wonderful for the community, and I want to thank everyone who played a part in it,” said Cross.

The new center, which will provide licensed early childhood education and daycare opportunities for children from 0 to 12 years of age, will officially open for service on Sunday. The facility will be open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Collaborations have also been made with West Shore Community College and Baker College for college students looking to go into a career of early childhood education.

Next Generation Learning Center administrator Holly Karlsen said they currently have 76 children registered, and they still have room for more students.

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Ogema Larry Romanelli said this project was successful because many different groups came together for a single cause.

“This is a community project and we talk about the ‘c’ word we have community, cooperation, collaboration and children,” said Romanelli. “I want to thank Jason and his crew for all the work they have done. This is a community project, and it involves one of our most precious resources which is everyone’s children. This isn’t just about daycare for our children, it is a learning center as we are actually teaching our children.”

Little George Steerk checks out some of the new educational equipment that is available at the Next Generation Learning Center. The new center is for children 0 to 12 years of age and open from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.

Little George Sterk checks out some of the new educational equipment that is available at the Next Generation Learning Center. The new center is for children 0 to 12 years of age and open from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.

Romanelli said everyone has taken a part in it, and the new center belongs to the whole community.

“I am just excited about it, as I see what this community can and does do time and time again,” said Romanelli.

LRBOI council recorder Joseph Riley II spoke on behalf of the tribal council. He said its members bought into the project right from its early stages.

“The reason the council supported this whole thing to begin with was it provided a service to the community that wasn’t already there,” said Riley. “It will make it easier for parents to get out and go to work and provide for their families. That is one of the one of the number one barriers for people is child care.”

Cross pointed out  to the large crowd in attendance that within in the building is going to be a federally qualified health center, Northwest Michigan Health Services.

Speaking on behalf of Northwest Michigan Health Services was vice president Kirk Myers. He said in the next several weeks they will be installing their equipment to provide health and dental care.

“I am excited about this project,” said Myers. “I want to thank the Little River Band for this wonderful opportunity to come here and serve this area. It’s going to be great for parents to have the health and dental clinic right next to the kids, so if something happens we are right here.”

Another agency to be housed with their own entrance to the building is the Manistee Child Advocacy Center. Executive director Traci Smith spoke on the collaboration.

“We are very honored, fortunate and really excited to be in that space,” said Smith. “It has been a long time coming and we feel truly fortunate to be here and look forward to partnering and collaborating together in protecting children and supporting families in this community.”

Thursday’s activities included a tribal tradition with a smudging ceremony by Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Historic Preservation Director Jay Sam by using smoke.

“We usually start all sorts of activities including a ribbon cutting with a smudge and in this case we do it because the building has changed, so we are changing the way in which the spirits act in the building,” said Sam. “We are also taking any negative energy. ” I am going to walk through the whole building and do this so all those areas have that positive energy.””

A prayer was also given by tribal member Kenny Pheasant in the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians language blessing the new center, the children and the future.

“I am going to talk to our creator on behalf of you and the Next Generation,” Pheasant said prior to delivering the blessing.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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