ThriveOn giving $5 million to childcare centers, names early education provider for King Drive facility


The ThriveOn Collaboration on Friday announced Malaika Early Learning Center as the operator of the new early childhood education center opening in the group’s ThriveOn King building in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville district.

The collaboration, which includes the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Medical College of Wisconsin and Royal Capital, also announced plans to give $5 million over five years to existing early childhood care and education providers in the Harambee, Halyard Park and Brewers Hill neighborhoods, according to a news release.

The $105 million ThriveOn King project will redevelop the former Gimbel & Schuster’s building, at 2153 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., into a center that will focus on addressing social determinants of health. Construction has been delayed by the pandemic but is expected to start soon. The project is to be substantially complete by June 30, 2023.

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Once complete, the facility will include community gathering space, 89 residential units for seniors and families and 100,000 square feet of office spave. It will serve as ThriveOn Collaboration’s physical home and the GMF’s new headquarters.

Malaika Early Learning Center will occupy nearly 14,000 square feet on the first floor of the ThriveOn King building. It will be a second location for the five-star-rated organization, which operates a facility at 125 W. Auer Ave. in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood.

The new center will offer comprehensive programs aligning with the K-12 education system. An estimated 78 seats will be available for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. The center will offer subsidized care and private pay tuition options, with services expected to launch in phases.

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“We heard early and often from residents that having quality, affordable options for early childhood education is a pressing need,” said Kathryn Dunn, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “Our approach, all the while, is to be additive to the neighborhoods while supporting the assets and talent already here. This plan offers dual benefit – partnering with a model provider to bring more high-quality seats to the King Drive area for our littlest learners while investing heavily in those already serving the community to enhance quality and access across the board.”

The collaboration selected Malaika after an extensive evaluation process. A final recommendation came from its “Early Childhood Education Workgroup,” which includes resident representation, providers and other community organizations who support the sector.

Malaika was chosen based on its leadership, level of family involvement and community engagement; representation in the sector and in the community at large; reputation for quality care, and its alignment with the ThriveOn Collaboration vision, according to the release.

“The ThriveOn King opportunity allows Malaika to level up its efforts to ensure children are great by the age of eight, or ‘Great By 8,’” said Tamara Johnson, executive director of Malaika Early Learning Center. “Early care and education tends to be the missing piece of the puzzle in thriving community efforts. Malaika is proud to be part of this collaborative effort to provide a prosperous and equitable community for all.”

The collaboration’s $5 million giving campaign will address deferred maintenance and improve facilities for enhanced program quality and capacity. Grant support will come with technical assistance related to design, construction, real estate and finance. The program also aims to foster a learning community for early care and education providers looking to develop relationships, share knowledge, problem-solve and benefit from the expertise of national and local experts.

As evidenced by a comprehensive study commissioned by GMF in 2019 and follow-up research in the ThriveOn neighborhoods, about half of Milwaukee’s children lack access to high-quality, affordable early childhood care and education. These challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic, further driving the collaboration’s efforts.

“Investment in early childhood education needs is just one part of a comprehensive commitment to the Harambee, Brewers Hill and Halyard Park neighborhoods,” said Greg Wesley, senior vice president, strategic alliances and business development for MCW. “This step supports the collaboration’s whole-community approach to well-being, beginning with support for our littlest ones and the families who raise them.”

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