Mustard Seed Kids opened its doors in fall 2018 in a recently remodeled portion of Victory Christian Church in Balaton. The child care center, which is licensed for up to 50 children, is an independent nonprofit guided by a board of directors. All its employees are qualified child care teachers in the state of Minnesota, and kids learn a faith-based curriculum approved by Minnesota Parent Aware.
Director Robin Scharfe operated a home-based child care for 20 years and was always full. When her own kids grew up, she closed her business and became a 911 dispatcher for Lyon County. She’s excited to be back caring for kids.
“Quality care — and kind and loving care — for kids is needed. You want everybody to succeed,” Robin said. “Everybody has struggles – learning to tie your shoes, writing your name, learning to read or doing math, zipping your coat, remembering to bring your bookbag off the bus. You need to be repetitive, take the time and have the patience.”
Starting a child care center is expensive. When planning began for Mustard Seed Kids, its board projected $95,000 in start-up costs, not including donated supplies and equipment. Rural child care centers lose a significant amount of money the first few years of operation as they get established. They also face challenges as they balance what families can afford to pay in rural areas with what’s needed to sustain teacher salaries.
In Balaton, Victory Christian Church partnered with area businesses and individuals to help clear that financial hurdle.
“A small center in a small community is hard to financially run, unless you have the partnerships of other people and their support,” said Casie Bangasser, who sits on the board of directors for Mustard Seed Kids and is pastor of ministries at Victory Christian Church. “The success of Mustard Seed Kids so far is really credited to the partnerships that have been made with local individuals and businesses.”
The success of those businesses also depends on Mustard Seed Kids. Brian Knochenmus, President and CEO of Ralco, sees how reliable child care can make a positive impact on local workforce. Ralco is a leading global provider of livestock nutrition, animal health products, crop enhancement products and shrimp production technology. Worldwide, Ralco has about 200 employees. It employs 15 people in Balaton, and its trū Shrimp division has approximately 31 employees there.
“Mustard Seed Kids meets a need in the community of Balaton and directly benefits our employees, which in turn helps Ralco and trū Shrimp attract and retain a qualified employee base,” Brian said.
“Without child care options in smaller communities like Balaton, there is a definite burden added for our employees. They oftentimes would have to drive significant distances to get their children to and from child care.” – Brian Knochenmus, President and CEO of Ralco
Brian emphasizes the major financial support received from many willing partners in the community, not just one business or person. Without it, he said, the child care wouldn’t be open today. Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) is among the funders. The foundation awarded Mustard Seed Kids $26,500 with support from a grant by the State of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
“Child care is a critical component to the success of a local business. It may be a silent partner, but it’s easier to see the impact when you think about how many people in your community are working and have children,” said Jodi Maertens, Youth and Family Officer at SWIF. “In Balaton, the community recognized the need and worked together to find a solution that fits for them.”
Mustard Seed Kids used grant money for equipment, supplies and professional and consultant support. Board members discovered they needed a lot of guidance navigating the regulations for child care centers and sought guidance from local daycare directors and a daycare consultant out of Mankato.
“The biggest challenge was the lack of support with the technical questions when it came to remodeling our space to meet the needs of the state,” Casie said. “It was initially hard to find anyone that knew and could help us answer the questions we had when it came to physically remodeling our building. It took a lot of networking with other centers in the area to understand all the regulations and code that the state has in place.”
Currently, Mustard Seed Kids serves 25 families.
“Though the process is long, hard and costly we know having more child care availability will benefit the community, businesses, and families in our area.” Casie Bangasser, Mustard Seed Kids
Business as usual? Not without child care available
Brian Knochenmus, President and CEO of Ralco, shares how a shortage of quality child care options impacts his business in several ways.
- We know there are members of our community who may not be able to seek or accept employment because they are unable to place their children in a reliable and affordable child care setting.
- Many of our employees may need to miss work or alter their schedules to match the hours when child care is available, sometimes causing a disruption in our business functions.
- Having child care that our employees feel good about gives them an increased ability to focus on their responsibilities during working hours rather than worrying about how and what their children may be doing in their absence from the home.
Access to child care is the fastest growing economic issue in southwest Minnesota. Southwest Initiative Foundation is committed to finding solutions that help families, employers and communities.
So far, the foundation has helped create or retain more than 473 child care slots, in addition to creating more than 50 child care jobs and ensuring hundreds of parents can access child care and remain employed.
What can your community do to keep child care providers going strong?
Email SWIF Youth and Family Officer Jodi Maertens if you would like assistance starting or continuing child care conversations in your community.