Community Profile

Excelsior Family Connections Strives to be Anchor for Families

Courtesy of Excelsior Family Connections

Family Connections is ready to settle down in the Excelsior. After 10 years of renting small office spaces in the Excelsior for high prices, the family services provider bought a 5,000-square foot warehouse in 2015 with grand plans to remodel the space and provide an “anchor” for families in the changing community.

The new building will have 12 staff — as opposed five at the current space — and provide more preschool and after school programing as well as computer literacy programs, all of which are not currently available.

Now, after two years of planning and gathering funding for an ambitious remodel of the building, Family Connections is nearly ready to start construction.

Family Connections was founded in 1993 by Maryann Fleming, a single mother who realized that many parents desperately needed help raising their children whether it was homework help for the children or education for the parents.

“Everyone can agree, people need help raising children,” Fleming said. “It’s like that old African proverb, ‘It takes a village.’”

Community outreach, in the form of needs assessments and advisory boards, is central to the organization’s approach.

“We realized early on that we wouldn’t have the success we wanted unless we engaged the community,” Fleming said.

Such outreach has led Family Connections to offer all of its programming in Cantonese, Spanish and English, given the knowledge that over 70 percent of the families that come to programs are not fluent English speakers.

After nine years of offering programming in the Portola neighborhood, Coleman Advocates, an Outer Mission nonprofit focused on children and family issues, approached Family Connections with the idea of opening an Excelsior branch.

The Excelsior branch opened in 2004, after Family Connections found high demand for more child care facilities in the neighborhood.

While 71 percent of Excelsior households are families — a rate that is nearly double the city average — the neighborhood has a relatively low number of nonprofits, according to Yensing Sihapanya, Family Connection’s associate director.

Excelsior Family Connections is the only family support center south of Cesar Chavez Street.

Still, while demand for childcare was certainly high in the Excelsior, Family Connections struggled to find an ideal office space.

The Excelsior office moved three times in since 2004, ultimately moving to 60 Ocean Ave., a 2,000-square-foot space that only allows for one classroom activity at a time, restricting the number of families the space serves.

After two years of searching for a building, Family Connections purchased 5016 Mission St., a 5,000-square-foot former warehouse, in 2015.

“Buying [a building] was the only way we could guarantee services in the Excelsior,” Sihapanya said.

At 5,000 square feet, the new building is more double the size of 60 Ocean Ave., a change is expected to result in a 30 percent jump in the number of families it services each year — from 1,000 to 1,300.

The ambitious remodel — which will include one room for preschool programming, another for larger community meetings and two smaller meeting rooms — was funded in large part by a $1 million grant from the Nonprofit Space Investment Fund, a $6 million program to keep nonprofits in the city announced by Mayor Ed Lee in May 2016.

“Things [in the Excelsior] are changing fast, with some families and children being pushed out,” Fleming said. “We’re hoping that the new building will act as an anchor for the Excelsior.”

Family Connections is in the process of finalizing permits and expects to begin providing services at 5016 Mission St. in April 2018.

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