A fire at Catholic Charities' Head Start classroom and storage shed resulted in extensive damage.
A fire at Catholic Charities’ Head Start classroom and storage shed resulted in extensive damage.

As the flames ate away at a Catholic Charities facility June 20, workers were left wondering where to begin in the process of restoration.

The fire erupted on the property of a Catholic Charities Head Start campus in Glendale. The Head start classrooms, located at 4801 W. Maryland, are housed on the property of Burton Elementary School. No one was harmed as the fire took place after business hours, but the damage done to a storage shed and classrooms was significant.

Debbie DiCarlo, director of parish and community engagement for Catholic Charities, said that the cause of the fire is still unclear. “The police are looking into exactly what it might be but they don’t know what started it,” DiCarlo said.

The fire began on a back wall and quickly spread, causing severe damage to the surrounding buildings. “The classrooms were destroyed,” DiCarlo said. “The shell of some of the walls is there but the interior is gone.”

In addition to the classrooms, the fire also took a toll on Head Start’s supply shed, which stored everything from special tricycles for the kids, to books and materials used in all classrooms. “Everything in there was 100 percent destroyed,” DiCarlo said.

Larry Campbell, Director of the Head Start and Early Start programs, said that seeing the damage was extremely discouraging. “It made me sick to my stomach,” Campbell said. “We serve very low income families living basically at poverty level, families that really have a huge need. These classrooms are in a very important geographic area for us, so it was sad to see that kind of devastation going up.”

Campbell also noted that the loss is especially devastating since it involved materials that were intended for children. “It was really sickening to see all the children’s supplies and tricycles charred,” Campbell said. “A fire is never pleasant in a home, business or anywhere else, but to know that it was an early childhood classroom, and to see that literally in flames, was very disheartening.”

The damage resulting from the fire will have widespread consequences, DiCarlo said, since the Head Start program reaches out to provide hope and help to large numbers of families. Designed to help low income families achieve their life goals, Head Start offers a variety of services, including assistance with educational needs for children, such as pre-reading, language, math skills and cognitive skills, DiCarlo said. The program also helps families with resources in the areas of health and wellness, as well as emotional and spiritual support.

Catholic Charities runs one of the largest Head Start programs in Maricopa County. DiCarlo explained that the connection between the Head Start program and Catholic Charities is essential. “We bring to their mission our unique Catholic identity, in that we are all about strengthening the family, and providing opportunities for parents to be the first and primary educator of their child,” DiCarlo said. ”We are instrumental in partnering federal dollars with the best of our Catholic identity, so that we really end up strengthening and impacting families who are living in poverty.”

Although the fire happened during a time when school was not in session, the need to re-build and provide children with maximum care and a place to learn is urgent. “We’re trying to get this addressed as quickly as possible,” DiCarlo said. “The number one thing that we need is a licensed contractor who would be willing to come and lend their expertise and help us rebuild as a voluntary activity. That would be so huge because the damages are significant.”

The community will also need assistance acquiring construction materials and classroom supplies. “Every classroom averages around $30,000.00 worth of materials,” Campbell said. “There’s quite a bit involved in that… program supplies, blocks, curriculum materials, tricycles…donations towards those types of things would be wonderful.”

For more information or to offer assistance, contact Janet Nellis, Westside Head Start Office Manager at (623) 486-9868 or jnellis@cc-az.org.