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Clara Petty: YWCA Milestones Education Honoree

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor

This year’s YWCA Milestones: A Tribute to Women honoree for Education is Clara Petty, executive director of the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center, for her success in bringing the Children Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School to the MSNC to enhance the variety of services offered by the agency.

Petty, now in her 14th year at the helm of the Center, oversees a number of program and services designed to strengthen families and offer children a safe environment outside of the home. The addition of the CDF, now approaching its fifth summer, helped take the mission a step further by offering children a nationally recognized creative curriculum with a proven track record of success.

As with most education programs in this difficult COVID-19 season, last summer’s CDF program had to be altered to fit the realities of the pandemic. The program was offered virtually to a reduced number of students – but that it was offered at all is a tribute to the previous success of the program and the encouragement parents offered to keep it on track, said Petty.

The K-8 grade program normally brings in 60 students for the Integrated Reading Curriculum during the morning and the art, theater, music and dance activities in the afternoons.

The Integrated Reading Curriculum provides students an opportunity to bridge some reading gaps. In addition, CDF offers STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) skills for the young participants. Additionally, amongst all those activities , the youngsters are provided breakfast, lunch and a snack.

The MSNC’s Freedom School was the brainchild of Gloria Layson, a member of the Braden United Methodist Church, who approached Rev. Larry Clark, pastor of Monroe Street United Methodist Church (which houses the MSNC) with the concept. Then Petty came into the picture and a partnership was formed with the church, the MSNC and the Maumee Watershed District – the region’s 25 Methodist churches.

 “A church can’t be a Freedom School,” said Petty who became the program’s administrator. “It needs to be a 501(c)(3) so Pastor Clark came to us and said we should do it.”

Money needed to be raised, of course. The Center had to come up with $65,000 to cover the Freedom School expenses such as training, staffing and testing. The partnership of the 25 churches in the Maumee Watershed District, the Monroe Street church and the Center and a grant from the Toledo Rotary Foundation resulted in a successful initial fundraising effort.

“We could not have done Freedom School without the support of the 25 Methodist churches of the Maumee Watershed District that poured financial and spiritual help into the school,” said Petty.

Individuals like Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and former University of Toledo men’s basketball coach Stan Joplin were part of the group of guest readers who volunteered their time.

Washington set about mastering the Freedom School curriculum and put in about 250 hours prior to the opening of the summer session – without pay – researching, organizing and training “because she really believed in the program,” said Petty. “You have to have a commitment in order to give away that amount of time.”

Student Leader Interns (SLI) – teachers – were also brought on board prior to the summer opening to undergo training to master the Freedom School concepts and curriculum.

The Freedom School enhanced an already rich variety of programs and services offered by MSNC pre-pandemic. That list includes the Savvy Senior Wellness Program; The Bridge (providing emergency food, clothing and transportation); Dress Right for Men and Women (providing professional clothing for those entering the job market); Documents Matter (assistance with securing a birth certificate or state ID) along with assorted wellness programs for seniors as Zumba Gold, Tai-Chi, cardio dance and a walking class.

These days, much of the efforts of the staff at the Center are to keep providing food to so many who have had financial difficulties during the pandemic. The Food Pantry, which is open on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., used to serve from 50 to 55 people now needs to serve between 100 and 125.

“We are getting calls from all over,” says Petty about the growing need for food. The Pantry obtains a good portion of its food from the SeaGate Center and the Northwest Ohio Food Bank. Extra funds have had to be raised to purchase additional items from the Food Bank.

All of these activities are carried out by a small staff – only three paid staff – and lots of volunteers.

Petty is a University of Toledo alumna with a master’s degree in Public Administration and is also a licensed social worker. She began her career in social services over 35 years ago and has worked at various agencies in Toledo and Cleveland, including a position as program director at the Caldwell Center before she moved over to MSNC.

Now, as is the case with so many people in Toledo and around the nation, Petty is recovering from her own bout with COVD-19 – a bout so bad, she says, that she was sometimes afraid to go to sleep fearing she would not wake up again.

She was hit with the virus right after Thanksgiving and is still recovering from it, gradually building her strength to pre-disease levels.

Being named an honoree for the Milestones’ Education Award could not have come at a better time.

This year’s event will be held virtually on March 26 at 11:30 a.m.



Copyright © 2021 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/19/21 14:30:54 -0500.

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