COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A $22 million investment in education in the Hilltop is already making an impact.

After an expensive setback this winter that delayed the opening date, the Hilltop Early Learning Center is getting ready to welcome its inaugural fall class.

Construction for the building began in 2020 and now years and millions of dollars later it’s ready to welcome families. It was funded by the City of Columbus and supported by the city council.

The goal is to give Hilltop area children the option of going to preschool and give parents access to basic medical needs, food security and counseling.

“The hilltop is a childcare desert. There aren’t very many high-quality facilities and it’s really important to Mayor Ginther, to the Hilltop early learning partners to make sure that all families have access to high-quality care which isn’t just what children learn, but it’s in the resources,” Hilltop Early Learning Center Chief Program Officer Ashley Wilcox said.

The center can hold up to 240 children. There were 40 in this first summer session. The center staff wanted to offer learning opportunities before these kids start kindergarten in a few weeks.

For one Hilltop family, it was a long wait.

“We were waiting for almost a year until the opening and stuff went down and I heard about the summer program, so I just decided to enroll him,” a mother to one pre-k graduate Yecenia Natididad said.

For another, it was a way to give her grandson a jump start.

“He’s just more alert. He loves having friends. He interacts more positively because I had to make sure that was addressed before going into kindergarten,” grandmother of a pre-k graduate Jonie Johnson said.

For families that meet the income and city guidelines, the school will be free.

“Every child, every family deserves high-quality early learning and at the Hilltop through partnerships through teachers, through getting resources to families, we just want everyone in the community to succeed,” Wilcox said.

The center is enrolling and hiring right now for the fall session. They said they are trying to hire about 15 more leads and 15 more assistants.

“It’s making connections with teachers, it’s making connections with their peers. It’s having access to high-quality nutrition, high-quality programming, high-quality partners. It is that full wraparound care that’s essential to making sure our child is socially emotionally ready for kindergarten cognitively ready for kindergarten,” Wilcox said.