Kelly and CJ Nelson are expecting a second baby this fall and finding child care for this new little one was a lot easier than their first time around. After their daughter was born in 2015, the Worthington couple had to cobble together a short-term solution, so Kelly could transition back to work.
“I cashed out two extra weeks of vacation after my maternity leave, and my husband took two weeks off of work. My mom took a week, and we had a stay-at-home mom take our daughter for a week before we got in to child care,” Kelly said. “I can’t imagine if anything wouldn’t have worked out.”
The couple had started searching for care when Kelly was three months pregnant, and it was a struggle to find. Luckily, they had close relationships with people who could help until a spot opened at Kids-R-It in Worthington, where their daughter is now in the preschool room. Knowing her little brother or sister already has a spot there this fall is “a huge relief” for Kelly, who is a teacher, and CJ, who works in recruitment for Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) recently helped shorten the waiting list for infant spots in Worthington with a $20,000 grant from the State of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The funding has added four infant spots at Kids-R-It, a nonprofit child care center that serves 100 kids ages 6 weeks to 12 years.
“By increasing access to four additional infant slots, Kids-R-It can offer quality care to more families,” said SWIF Youth and Family Officer Jodi Maertens. “The center will also have added staff capacity to work on curriculum and assessment of children along with family inclusion and communications.”
Currently, most of the staff’s days are filled with hands-on teaching and caring for children, leaving little time to prepare and reflect on important components like observations of proper growth and development of the children in their care. With additional staff, there will be more time to visit with parents and schedule year-round visits during the day to strengthen relationships with both children and families.
Kids-R-It teaches a hands-on, theme-based program with many learning stations that allow children to make choices and be successful. Having quality child care is important to Kelly as a parent.
“Some days they see my kids more than I do during the day. You want someone who’s going to try and help raise your kids as well as you want to. As a teacher, I’m all about helping kids be good people,” Kelly said.
Kids-R-It Director Pam Duffy has been working at the center since it opened in 1994. She’s seen the need for child care grow along with the City of Worthington, which has a population of around 12,500. There’s a waiting list for the infant room, and always a need for additional funding. Pam is constantly applying for large and small grants, and the $20,000 DEED grant was a big boost.
“Adding the four spots requires equipment like cribs, changing tables and high chairs, and extra supplies. It would be difficult for us to do without funding. We used every penny and set up little stations — an area for the non-movers and the movers, so kids stay safe,” Pam said. “We were also able to purchase some equipment to help staff and support their bodies when they’re on the floor with the kids. That’s hard on their backs and knees. You can tell the difference in the staff, they’re more comfortable.”
In southwest Minnesota, there’s a shortage of approximately 3,090 licensed child care spots needed to accommodate the estimated number of children under age 6 with both parents working, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. SWIF is committed to finding child care solutions that help families, employers and communities. Our Bright Beginnings Loan Program is designed specifically for child care providers, both family child care and center-based. In addition to loans to for-profit child cares and grants for nonprofit child cares, foundation staff gather people around the table for community conversations to figure out what a community needs and can support.
What can your community do to keep child care providers going strong? Contact us if you would like assistance starting or continuing child care conversations in your community.