WYANDOTTE — The Eastern Shawnee Tribe broke ground on a planned expansion of its Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) near Wyandotte Friday, Feb. 14.

The center is located on part of 120 acres that was purchased in 1987 by the foresight of the Eastern Shawnee Business committee at that time with funding from tribal gaming proceeds.

“So many times we see a need but can’t address it. We are so happy that in this case we could address it and solve it, knowing it is the right thing for the future,” Eastern Shawnee Chief Glenna Wallace said at the ceremony. “Every child needs individual attention and love to go out and make their mark on the world.”

The original learning center, which currently has the capacity for 75 students ages three months through 5-years-old, is open to all children of the community and tribal members, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or ability.

With the expansion, the center will add an additional infant classroom, age appropriate facilities for ages six through 12, furnishings for children five and under, a dining room, and storage space.

The original building, a $1.4 million project, also includes a $400,000 safe room made possible with funding from the Shakopee Tribe.

The Shakopees, a tribe in Minnesota, are well known for their foundation that assists tribes with many projects.

“Our chief was friends with Ed Webster, who was a personal friend of then Chairman Crooks,” said Nancy Maxwell, who handles marketing for the Eastern Shawnee tribe. “Ed knew of our project and suggested we contact the Shakopees and explain our need. We did and they graciously assisted us then and, because of the success we have had with our program and because of the need we have to expand, they are graciously assisting us now.

The Shakopee sent the following message to Chief Wallace: “On behalf of the entire Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, congratulations on this exciting expansion. Our tribe is proud to support this important and necessary project. We regret not being able to celebrate it with you in person.”

Sara Swenson, Director for the Shakopees, said in a message to Wallace. “For years, this center has offered critical support to families and provided valuable educational and cultural opportunities to the youngest members of your community,” Wallace said. “This expansion, with its new classrooms and facilities, will broaden this impact. Soon, even more children will learn about nature and about Shawnee tradition and language…even more families will find support.

“We are a caring tribe. When our citizens are in need or our neighbors are in need, we want to do what we can to address those needs. We needed childcare during the day for young children. We needed after school care for elementary students. And we needed summer school when the public schools were closed. With this expansion we will be able to address all of those needs.”

Wallace said that currently, there are more than 120 children being served by the tribe’s various programs.

“What a privilege,” she said. “Now we need room for an additional infant classroom — all our furnishings are for children five and under; we are sorely lacking in age appropriate facilities for ages six through 12. Plus we have no dining room and no storage space.”

For more information, log onto the Eastern Shawnee’s website at https://estoo-nsn.gov/ or call 918-666-5220.