Edmond council denies park land for foster children center
EDMOND — Jennifer Abney has a dream she isn't willing to let go of, despite challenges she faces as she tries to provide child care for foster children.
Abney, the Angels Foster Family Network founder and executive director, worked for two years on her plan for a child development center. She raised $3 million and found a partner with the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City.
Her plan came to a standstill recently when she went to the Edmond City Council asking to lease land adjacent to the Mitch Park YMCA in J.L. Mitch Park. Four of the five council members didn't want to give up park land for her project.
Mayor Charles Lamb was the only member of the council to vote in favor of a long-term lease of the park property.
"I am going to do it no matter what," Abney said after the vote.
"If I have to purchase land, it will push the project back a year or two. I want to start as soon as I have the land."
Council members Darrell Davis, Elizabeth Waner, Nick Massey and Victoria Caldwell voted no. But they spoke in favor of Abney's project.
"I would love to have this in Edmond," Massey said. "I do think we would set a precedent if we give up park land. Maybe you can find property close by."
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Davis said the city has a limited amount of park space.
Abney and Mike Roark, Edmond YMCA executive director, said they were disappointed about not being able to locate the child development center next door to the YMCA.
"We had a vision together," Roark said. "We are definitely disappointed."
It would have been the first trauma-informed child development center in Oklahoma, a collaboration of thousands of people in the community over two years, Abney told the council.
John Meyers, Angels network past president, said, "This would be the first one. To me it is very exciting, one that the city would be proud of."
Organizers noticed 24 months ago that the lack of quality child care led to problems with finding foster families because some families had trouble finding care for children who come from difficult backgrounds.
"The first was our limited ability to recruit dual-income foster families," Abney said. "Second, more quality centers have a two-year waiting list, which does not work with the unknowns of foster care."
The third problem was finding centers that understand children coming from traumatic experiences, drug and alcohol exposure and severe neglect.
Erin Devoe, the mother of two adoptive children from the foster system, told council members the children are "Oklahoma's almost forgotten children."
Devoe, an Edmond North High School Spanish teacher and swim coach, and her sister, Heather Devoe, Edmond's head swim coach for the three high schools, are raising the two boys.
Erin Devoe told about her 5-year-old son being written up at school and being uninvited back to his prekindergarten class that day.
"Teaching teachers how to relate with children who are hard to deal with is a big deal," Erin Devoe said in her plea for the child development center. "These are children we are not used to dealing with."
Abney and Roark agreed the child development center should be close to the YMCA.
The Angels offices would not move into the child care center, Abney said. One of the goals of the child development center would be to prepare children to attend Edmond public schools, she said.
"This joint venture is critical because we serve 70 percent of the foster families in Edmond and the ZIP codes around Mitch Park.
"We think the location would be just perfect."
Roark hoped other YMCA centers could duplicate this project across the state.
"When we look at this project collaboration, as citizens of Edmond, I think it would be a great addition," Roark said.