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Monday, February 25, 2013

ACCA Child Development Center relies heavily on volunteers and donations

The ACCA Child Development Center in central Annandale depends heavily on contributions from its corporate and nonprofit partners to carry out its mission—providing high-quality, affordable care to young children.

The center serves 183 babies, toddlers, and preschool-age children in the ACCA (Annandale Christian Community for Action (ACCA) building on Columbia Pike. ACCA, an alliance of 26 local churches, provides assistance to the needy through a variety of programs, and provides support to the CDC. Many of the children served by the CDC are from disadvantaged families and wouldn’t be able to come to the center without financial support.

One of the CDC’s top goals is to strengthen its connections with the community, says Executive Director Maria Isabel Ballivian.

Meals are provided by Fairfax County Public Schools.
Several major collaborative projects took place in 2012. Southern Management, the company that manages the Parliaments apartments in Annandale, helped with landscaping, donated supplies, and brought 50 volunteers for a day of community service last fall. The volunteers painted stairwells and playground benches, installed a basketball hoop, and worked in the CDC’s gardens.

The Gannett Foundation installed equipment and a soft rubber floor for an outdoor playground just for babies and contributed a “musical playground” for toddlers with things like drums and xylophones. The CDC also collaborated with Wolf Trap to stage three large volunteer events.

The Child Development Center is full of children's artworks.
In November, Hilton Worldwide, Volunteer Fairfax, and the Points of Light Foundation brought 100 volunteers to the CDC to install a picture-hanging system for displaying children’s artwork throughout the building and a storage system.

Hilton has also promised to put in new hands-free faucets on classroom and restroom sinks throughout the CDC. Steinhorst Plumbing of Annandale donated four of those faucets. 

Hands-free faucets will prevent cross-contamination and thus reduce the number of days children are out sick, says Ballivian. That’s critical because of a new state rule that takes away parents’ daycare subsidies if their child misses more than 20 days a year.

Last year, more than 10 children lost their subsidy because they missed too many days due to sickness, she said. When that happens, the parents have to pay the full cost, and many can’t afford it, so their children have to leave. Children with special needs or weak immune systems are especially vulnerable to this requirement.

Under another state law, passed in 2012, a parent who loses a job or has their working hours cut back could lose their child care subsidy. That makes Virginia one of only five states that doesn’t provide child care assistance to people looking for a job. That’s a real hardship for parents with irregular work schedules who rely on the CDC for child care. For example, if a person works on weekends and has a day off during the week, the subsidy won’t cover that day. It also doesn’t cover times when the CDC isn’t open, like during spring break.

As a result of these laws, there are a lot of transitions, with children continually coming and going. “That changes the dynamic in the classroom,” says Jennifer Shaw,  the operations director. “You put a lot of work into child development, and then you have a lot of turnover.”

It’s especially disruptive for children receiving special services, like speech pathology or occupational therapy, Ballivian adds. When the parents of those children lose their subsidy, they usually send their children to a grandmother, who can’t provide those services, and all the progress made with that child is lost. “It really hurts us as teachers when that happens,” Shaw says.

And it’s really hard to explain to a child why they can’t come to school anymore and be with their friends and the teachers who’ve helped them become a “confident little person,” says Ballivian. “The hardest thing I have to do is say goodbye to a child and close the door knowing there’s nothing we can do to help them.”

She would like to be able to offer scholarships to help families in those situations, but doesn’t have the funding to do that.

The CDC also provides additional services for families, such as parenting classes and holiday parties. Last year, the center hosted a health fair for the community with support from United Way and free health screenings from Kaiser Permanente.

Tuition at the CDC is lower than other area day care centers. The weekly cost is $215 for preschool-age children, $240 for toddlers, and $285 for infants. Most parents get a subsidy based on household income, with some paying as little as $20 a week or $5 a week for an infant. About 10 percent pay the full fee. Ballivian would like to increase that to 25 percent to promote more stability. Most of the children come from the Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Springfield areas, although there are some from all over the county.

The CDC relies on lots of support from individual volunteers who do art and music projects with the children and work in the garden. Donations from the community are always welcome, especially clothing and diapers, Ballavian said. Contact her via email if you would like to help.


  1. What this wonderful article does not mention is how the center rewards the people that put their sweat and blood into the center. In the past few years, ACCA released a person who had been with the group for 25 years. She was called in one day and just let go, with nary a thought. This person had been promoted only 6 months or so earlier to a higher position, something she worked for her entire career. When she asked to be placed in another job at the center, she was told she was unqualified for anything else. Imagine that, 25 years at ACCA and not qualified for anything else. Perhaps before people make their contributions, they should evaluate those running this establishment and how they treat those that gave their all for the place. I think it says a lot...

  2. That is right - people should evaluate the nonprofits to which they contribute.

    The ACCA Board of Directors is comprised of volunteers from participating congregations from all over Annandale. They have Board representatives who work directly with the ACCA CDC. I'm sure that they would be happy to answer any questions about the qualifications of their staff members who work with (or for) the children in the Center.

    (And let's bear in mind that there are certainly TWO sides to any story of why an employee might be let go from their job, and it's not appropriate or legal for ACCA to comment on an employee's work record)