FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Tuesday afternoon, a group of budding chefs took turns whisking a bowl full of cinnamon apple muffin batter. Once the muffins were baking in one of the double ovens in the state-of-the-art kitchen the chefs were using, they would move on to making the apple butter that would be served alongside the muffins.

The chefs were, in fact, a group of children ranging in age from 8 to 11. And the muffins would be refreshments that would be served after Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the official opening of Fort Jackson's newest child care centers.

The new centers, Imboden Street Child Development Center and Imboden Street School Age Center, are just two of the visible effects of the Army Family Covenant, said Rose Edmond, chief of Child, Youth and School Services.

"This is a one-of-a-kind setup," Edmond said, while taking a break from setting up tents for Wednesday's ceremony.

The official ceremony comes after the centers' "soft" opening in August as those parents needing extended care were transitioned from other on-post child development centers and care homes.
Each of the centers cost approximately $5 million.

Unlike many other military child care centers, which focus on either school-age children or younger children, both of the new buildings will house infants through 10-year-olds.

The Imboden CDC, which has a capacity of 160, will be split about 50/50 with those age groups, while the school age center, with a capacity of 135, will house mostly school-age children. Although there are no younger children yet enrolled at the school age center, Edmond said the dual age groups will provide parents an opportunity to put siblings in the same building.

Edmond also said the addition of the new buildings have whittled the waiting lists for parents waiting for care.

"Almost all the waiting lists are exhausted," she said. "If you want the care, we have it somewhere."

Each of the two buildings has rooms dedicated for younger children, and the CDC has a separate wing for school-age children. Currently, all kindergarten classes are held at the CDC. The school-age portion of both centers run on a similar system. Children are dropped off or are bused from one of the two on-post schools or 19 off-post schools that CYSS services. Children then go to their "home bases" after an accountability check.

After more accountability in the home bases, children can choose to go to other rooms such as an entertainment center, gym/multipurpose room and a homework/computer lab.

In the school age center, a large open kitchen serves as an opportunity for children to observe cooking demonstrations and try their hand at cooking, like the children making refreshments for Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Jamillah Manigo, director of the Imboden Street CDC, said the setup of the facilities allows staff to provide a safe, and fun, learning environment for the children. It is also accommodating for parents.

"It provides them with a lot of convenience, especially for siblings," Manigo said. Her center serves as the post's extended care facility, and is open from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. for those whose mission requirements necessitate a need for such care. The center also provides Saturday care.

"We are glad that we are able to provide our extended care parents (this facility)," she said. "The Army Family Covenant has really helped with the funding so our Soldiers get the care they need."

Sandra Madera, director of the school age center, said she has received positive feedback from parents so far.

"All the CYSS programs we have are here to serve the Soldiers and the needs of the kids," she said. "We're looking to provide a good environment for the kids."

In addition to the various rooms that provide a place for children to do homework, read books or play video games, the school age center offers special trips throughout the week by partnering with AAFES facilities.

For example, children can go to the bowling alley on Tuesdays, and Fridays, they are treated to a movie at the post theater. Because missions sometimes require parents to be apart from their children for extended periods, Madera said, the center staff does its best to make children's time at the center as enjoyable as possible.

Madera said she hates to see any child cry, but sometimes, it's for a good reason.

"When I see a child crying because they don't want to go home, that makes me feel something," she said. "They love to be here."