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Children's Center thanks community for new building

When her son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Lourdes Flores felt relieved.

The 32-year-old mother of three couldn't figure out why her eldest son, Joshua, wasn't talking and wouldn't make eye contact with anyone.

After two years of therapy at the Children's Center, Joshua and his younger brother, Ethan, who also was diagnosed with the disorder, talk and interact with other children every day.

"It's amazing," said Flores, a Salt Lake resident. "I'm so grateful. It's been a miracle happening every day."

And the Children's Center will now offer therapeutic services and classes to even more children with a recent move from a building near the University of Utah Medical Center to the former Oquirrh School, 350 S. 400 East. The four-story, historic school — built in 1894 — was renovated last year with $13 million raised by the center during the past five years.

The new location, which is three times larger than its previous building, places the Children's Center close to the YWCA, a TRAX stop and bus routes.

The center celebrated its new home by inviting the community and the 750 sponsors who helped make the renovation possible out to a children's carnival Saturday with art projects, face-painting, football-throwing contests and a live band.

Gov. Gary Herbert declared Aug. 29 as Children's Center Day, and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker welcomed the center into its new home.

Families joined in a fun run and walk throughout the neighborhoods in the morning, which Jill McGinnis, an early childhood outreach worker at the Center, said was a fun activity for her kids — except for the hill.

Salt Lake resident Corey Lewis held his 2-year-old daughter on a mechanical bull that slowly bucked children onto an inflatable, bouncing floor pad.

Lewis, who's been going to the center for parenting advice for the past eight months, said the classes help him deal with stress and be a better parent.

"It's almost like Parenting 101," said Lewis, 38. "I wish there was a book like this that they'd give us when we leave the hospital."

The Children's Center plans to double its offered services during the next 10 years, said Courtney Garay, the center's development director.

The additional space allows for double the number of clinical rooms, one-third more children enrolled in the therapeutic preschool program and a new occupational therapy program.

"There are kids out there who don't like the feel of a tag," Garay said. "We give them sensory bean bags to help them learn to deal with it."

The new program officially will open in the next few months, but most programs have been opened since July to the 1,800 children and parents the center helps. Children's Center officials plan to expand to helping 2,500 children and parents with the renovated school.

Garay said it was "beautiful" watching the kids see the building for the first time, their mouths open in wonder and excitement.

The new playground encourages children to interact and work together. The musical playground equipment requires kids to each play part of the instrument for sound to come out.

e-mail: lgroves@desnews.com