Jenni Bruce, 20, recalls peeking into the toddler room at Baby's Space not long ago and seeing her 16-month-old son, Lewis, who recently moved up from the infant room, sleeping soundly during nap time. "Seeing him like that just brought a tear to my eye," she said.
Having her son and other children from the community in a safe and peaceful place such as Baby's Space, a nonprofit child care facility located at the Little Earth Neighborhood Learning Center in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, is important to Bruce, who works with 2- to 4-year-olds in the child care's preschool room.
"This is a place where they can be themselves. They are here to learn things that are important in their lives right now, like their colors and shapes," she said. "We're not rushing them to grow up."
Baby's Space serves American Indian children from birth to age 5 and is also home to Tatanka Academy, a year-round Minneapolis Public School for students pre-K to third grade. The center emphasizes social and emotional development and preparing children in all the ways they need to be successful, according to Terrie Rose, a licensed psychologist who founded Baby's Space in 2000.
Many of the children who attend Baby's Space have witnessed violence at home and in the neighborhood: The father of one current family was a homicide victim last year, killed after knocking on a neighbor's door.
"The trauma never ends when you are living in a neighborhood where security is never a guarantee," Rose said. "This is a place that is consistent and reliable for children and is really a point of stability in their lives. They know we will always listen to them and that we care about their families."
The availability of child care, parenting resources and mental health services in one neighborhood location is especially valuable for parents, Rose said.
"We work closely with families to make sure their children can remain in this environment. If a parent loses a job, they lose their child care subsidy, so we are lucky to have financial support to offer scholarships through their period of transition to another job," Rose said.
The classrooms at Baby's Space are welcoming, stimulating and designed to be in tune with nature. The toddler room features a cozy "loon's nest" where adults and children can read or play, while a wall of the kindergarten room is decorated with constellations from the night sky. An intricate pattern simulating a river is embedded into hallway floors.
Shelves of books for children and parents line the large second-floor library, a place where many parents gather monthly with a parent educator to assemble scrapbooks about their children, using materials provided by the center. The center also hosts family-night activities, which range from informal demonstrations on cooking to more formal topics like the importance of reading to children. Parenting groups also meet regularly.
Bruce, who grew up in the Phillips neighborhood, has known many families in the program for years and likes how the Baby's Space environment feels like home.
"A lot of the kids who are here have seen things they wish they hadn't seen. That happened to me, too," she said. "Being here, I feel like I'm able to give back to the community and do what I can to make it better for parents and kids."
Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer. Got an idea for the Your Family page? E-mail us at tellus@ startribune.com with "Your Family" in the subject line.