Dr. Gerhard Kohn and his wife Irena had studied the impacts of early childhood development — or the lack of it — intensely in the mid-20th Century. In 1967, they determined to do something about it, at least in Long Beach.

By 1969, Young Horizons had formed as an incorporated nonprofit. Services ultimately  included preschool, extended day care, reading development, psychological treatment and children’s day treatment in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Since the beginning, the focus has been on serving poor and at-need families. It quickly became clear that affordable childcare was in short supply in Long Beach. In 1984, the Kohns opened Young Horizons' first child care center.

Today, there are five centers, serving 400 children, executive director Sarah Soriano said. 

"At Young Horizons, our primary purpose and activity is ensuring that low-income children develop the fundamental knowledge and skills they need to keep up and compete with their peers in kindergarten and beyond," Soraino said in a statement. "Decades of experience have taught us that providing care and education is not enough; we must also ensure that children receive appropriate nutrition because hungry children cannot develop and learn.”

To celebrate the half-century of service, Young Horizons is hosting a gala Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Hotel Maya. The evening will include music from the Jazz Angels, a light dinner, a Golden Wall of auction items, and award presentations.

Those awards include one to Mayor Robert Garcia — the Champion of Children Award — for his ongoing dedication to education. Co-founder Irena Kohn also will receive a Champion of Children Award, given posthumously to her family. Irena died in January this year; Gerald Kohn died in 1997.

Three more awards follow the Young Horizon concepts of Caring, Loving and Learning. Angelina Contreras will receive the Caring Award for 33 years of service, Ron Whittaker with the Loving Award for his 15 years on the Young Horizons Board of Directors, and Soriano will get the Learning Award for her 25 years with Young Horizons, rising from Dr. Kohn’s assistant to the executive director.

The party is from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at Hotel Maya, 700 Queensway Drive. Tickets, $150 each, can be purchased online at www.younghorizons.org. For more information or to donate, contact Young Horizons at 562-437-8991.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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