A full time, year round day care center for infants, toddlers and preschoolers has been an unmet need in Eads for, literally, years. For those who don’t remember, Eads, at one time, had a full time day care center that was operated by the county, but a constellation of factors resulted in it being closed without warning and with no alternatives in existence to replace it. Consequently, parents, who had been relying on the center for child care, suddenly found themselves scrambling for child care providers. In true Eads fashion, several women in the community stepped up and opened their homes to fill in the gap until something more permanent could be established.
That was roughly 7 years ago.
During that time, there have been several good faith efforts to get something in place. As part of the most recent attempt, KCEDF donated a lot at Kiowa Estates to serve as a site for a new building, and a group, formed under the direction and leadership of former KCHD CEO Tristan Sheridan, even got so far as to create a 501c3 under the name “Future Leaders Learning and Care Center”. But progress stalled out, largely due to a lack of resources, and the “new” child care center was relegated to the community’s back burner, again.
Currently, there is some availability for working moms and dads to place their children in quality, trustworthy, home based childcare in town, but those options are limited to just a couple of homes, at best. Also, due to a lack of people who are certified to assist the child care operators, most, if not all, of those home centers are not eligible to receive payments from the Colorado Childcare Assistance Program. This makes the delivery of ongoing child care in someone’s home difficult and, frankly, expensive for both the operators and the parents whose children receive the services.
It’s important to note that the lack of a larger facility licensed and staffed to provide day care for extended hours has had a measurable impact not just on working parents but on the community, as a whole. Numerous studies cite lack of available child care as a real obstacle to attracting younger working couples to an area. And, for those parents with young children already living here, it can make even being employed a challenge. In fact, this on-going circumstance actually forced one individual to quit a job she enjoyed and offer child care in her own home because finding reliable child care for her own children just proved too difficult.
But, in what is genuinely good news, there may be a very real and viable solution on the horizon. Due to several people doing some true “out of the box” thinking, KCEDF Coordinator Jan Richards’ dogged persistence and Commissioner McLoud’s volunteering to assist in finding and, hopefully, obtaining funding, there may be some plans in the works to address this long standing problem.
Several months ago, Jenn Crow (of course) came up with an idea that was a combination of slap-you-in-the-face obvious and sheer genius. Jenn, who regularly attends First Baptist Church, proposed a plan where the church, which goes largely unused on the weekdays, be used as a site for a day care center. In order to appreciate what a perfect idea this was, it’s important to understand what’s involved in opening a child care center.
As Cindy McLoud explains it, there are three components involved: an appropriate building, a license to operate and certified staff. Each one of those components carries huge requirements, which explains why there are 451 pages of regulations attached to operating a facility.
But anyone who’s attended a meeting on starting such a business can attest to the fact that the first requirement—“an appropriate building”—is typically the largest obstacle to overcome because the cost of constructing a building built to specifications can be enormous. Just one example of those specifications relates to providing child care for infants and toddlers. According to current regs, any room used for infants and/or toddlers must have immediate access to the outside without any impediments. Not even a single stair is allowed. The room, itself, must also provide a minimum of 50 square feet per infant and 45 per toddler. That may not sound like much until you do the math. If a child care operator wanted to provide services to, say, 5 infants, she (or he) must have a room on the ground floor (again, no steps) that is at least 300 feet big. And that’s just the infants and toddlers. Preschoolers and older children have their own set of requirements.
Suffice it to say, there just aren’t many buildings built to meet the plethora of needs presented by all types of little people with all sorts of various needs who plan to spend the entire day in one place. (Anyone with children can extrapolate on what those various needs might be.)
That is, except for a building like the First Baptist Church. Often described as “beautiful”, First Baptist Church—like many churches—is constructed to meet the exact same needs presented by a child care center. There are rooms for providing instruction, several of which are on the ground floor, plus rooms downstairs that can accommodate bigger groups (and bigger kids). There are an ample number of rest rooms. There’s a kitchen. And, as is true of most modern buildings, there are an abundance of exits to the outside with additional room for a playground in the back of the church.
Inspired by the possibilities, a group of people formed to investigate further, including Jan Richards, church members Jenn Crow, Debbie Derby and Mike Lening, Cindy McLoud and Lexi Back. Others, including Betsy Barnett, came into the process later. Nonetheless, after discussion, brainstorming, conference calls with Julie Witt of Cheyenne Kiowa Lincoln Early Childhood Council (CKLECC, a non-profit organization that assists in child care center startups and operation), research on existing regulations and review of funding opportunities, it was decided to address all three components at the same time.
The first step was to apply for funding with KCEDF as the lead applicant, CKLECC as a participating partner and Future Leaders Learning and Care Center as the 501c3 that would operate the day care center. Concurrently, Jenn Crow completed the 13 page application for licensure. Betsy Barnett took on training staff and reached a tentative agreement with LCC to offer day care certification classes for a minimum of 10 students in both a classroom and distance learning situation.
The last—and biggest step—was the building.
And that monumental biggest step was taken Monday when Denise Kelley, an inspector with the Colorado Office of Early Childhood and Debbie Gillespie, a leading specialist with the same department, came to Eads and inspected the church to see if it meant building requirements. Accompanied by a group including Jan Richards, Jenn Crow, Cindy McLoud, Dennis Pearson, Lexi Back and Betsy Barnett, Kelley walked the building, measured space, counted rest rooms, took notes, checked her lists and did all those other inspection type things. And then she said, unofficially, “It will pass.”
This is big news. This is really big news.
Without going into detail, the bottom line is that the First Baptist Church can accommodate—with no improvements necessary—a maximum of 65 children with accommodations suitable for infants all the way up to school-aged children. And neither the sanctuary nor the cry room will be involved.
Given that a fire inspection was already successfully completed, all that is left, to a large degree, is passing the health department inspection, completing the license application, obtaining the funding and filling the certification courses for classroom teachers.
Both state officials said it was a very real possibility the Future Leaders Learning and Care Center could be up and running by the fall.
Of course, that is assuming that funding is obtained and at least 10 willing participants will sign up for the certification courses. But, given how all of this has fallen together, and given where the learning center will be located, one can’t help but get the feeling that the present and future moms and dads and kids of Kiowa County and surrounding areas are getting a little extra help in making what has long been dreamed of an actual reality.