Over the next 5 years, Gurt and his team hope to open 6 early childhood resource centers, or ECRCs, designed to serve children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The first center will open in Hershey alongside MHS, and the second location will be in Harrisburg.
“Today, between 80-85% of children under the age of 5 in Pennsylvania, living at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Line, don’t have access to quality early childhood education. CHS will be a part of the solution,” Gurt said.
When he was a child in Morrell Park, Gurt’s father passed, leaving his mother to raise 8 children. She sent her kids to MHS in hopes that they would receive a good education. Gurt, her youngest, graduated and eventually became president of MHS in 2014.
Now, Gurt is helping expand the mission of MHS to serve children even before they reach school-age. CHS will provide support to children from birth to age 5. However, these supports don’t end with the kids, they extend to their families as well.
“Each CHS location will include a dedicated family resource center. Among the tools and resources available to families will be educational information, housing services, healthcare referrals and job training,” Gurt said.
Senate Alexander, an Upper Darby native and graduate of MHS, was appointed executive director of CHS. He said the services provided by CHS focus on not just children, but their families, in order to break the cycle of poverty.
“CHS aims to be part of the solution to this national crisis. Our program will focus on providing whole child supports because quality early education isn’t just about academics,” he said.
“Whole child care is about recognizing the reality of Adverse Childhood Experiences and helping children overcome those challenges,” he said.
Alexander also pointed out that public childcare is underfunded, and this issue has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Tens of thousands of daycares closed during the pandemic, forcing parents — especially women — out of the job market to care for their children. This reduces the earning power of families, which in turn negatively affects kids. The tide has to turn,” he said.
MHS was founded by Milton and Catherine Hershey, and the trust they created to sustain the school will now fund CHS.
Future CHS locations have yet to be announced, but both Gurt and Alexander look forward to their announcement.
“While all young children have been impacted by the pandemic, it’s becoming clear that low-income and disadvantaged children have been affected the most,” Alexander said.
“As a society, we need to place a higher priority on early learning.”