Charity issue: Childhood values


Harper Heaps

University City Children’s Center (UCCC) is an organization that focuses on the wellbeing of children from all different backgrounds.

Danielle Stewart watches her daughter as she runs up to school, greeting all of her friends. She smiles knowing her child is safe and content at the University City Children’s Center (UCCC), an organization that focuses on the wellbeing of children from all different backgrounds.

“A lot of childcare centers don’t come anywhere near the level of care those children get,” Stewart, a parent representative at UCCC, said. “It’s unfortunate that more programs like University City Children’s Center don’t exist.” 

 UCCC’s ambition is to create a safe, nurturing environment for children from various socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. UCCC wants children to learn and play together in an atmosphere that is respectful of diversity and individuality. The early childhood center tries to meet the needs of each family that walks through their doors. Their goal is to create a safe environment that prepares all children for life. 

Steve Zwolak, UCCC executive, said it is important for children to learn valuable relationship skills at a young age. He said he wants kids to learn how to be emotionally responsive before they move to academics. To Zwolak, forming good friendships comes before the education aspect. 

“Our vision is to do everything possible in the first five years [of their lives] to make sure children get a more formalized version of an educational system,” Zwolak said. “In order for kids to develop good literacy or STEM skills, they have to have a good understanding of relationships.” 

“We want our children to grow and be good humans, we live in our values.”

— Steve Zwolak

Zwolawk grew up with financial struggles and said that he was drawn to working at UCCC because he wanted to help people who dealt with the same adversity he had. The environment wasn’t new to him, which is why he felt he would be the right fit for the job. 

“What really drew me in was the fact that I grew up in an underserved population,” Zwolak said. “I was really attracted to working in a population I was familiar with [because] I knew what it was like to be poor.” 

UCCC cares for any family they meet, no matter their financial state. The organization provides scholarships and programs that make it possible for all children to attend UCCC, regardless of their economic background. Stewart and her daughter were one of the selected families given a scholarship to the organization. Not only did UCCC aid her in tuition, but they also supported them financially for the holidays. 

“For two Christmases they adopted us,” Stewart said. “UCCC made it very easy for me to provide a Christmas for my daughter.” 

UCCC was founded in 1970 and has since grown tremendously. When Zwolak inherited the organization, the building wasn’t physically or financially able to care for children. 

“The facility was in such deplorable condition, it was inhabitable,” Zwolak said. “It was an unfit place for children.”

Since Zwolak has taken over, UCCC has been able to care for 164 children. Their mission is to provide for young children and teach them how to build trustworthy relationships. The organization thrives off five main values in which they abide by everyday: compassion, trust, empathy, love and joy. 

“We want our children to grow and be good humans,” Zwolak said. “We live in our values.”