GHENT, Minn. – Jamie Gillund has fulfilled her lifelong dream by opening Little Explorers Child Care Center in Ghent with help from Southwest Initiative Foundation’s (SWIF) Bright Beginnings Loan Program. Her new small business helps fill a critical need for child care in surrounding communities, with the potential to serve 57 children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old.
“Caring for young children is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Gillund said. “While attending college at Southwest Minnesota State University, I worked at the campus child care center and fell in love with the atmosphere and working with a team who had the same ambitions.”
Gillund earned her degree in early childhood education at SMSU, then opened a family child care in her home 17 years ago. Her child care spots were consistently full. After receiving calls daily for both full-time and drop-in care for years, Gillund decided it was time to finally pursue her dream of a child care center. Completed in 2021, the brand-new building that houses Little Explorers Child Care Center has a reception area, office, four classrooms and a kitchen. Outside is a playground.
Enrollment is currently at 44 children; the infant and toddler classrooms are full, and both have waiting lists. Each classroom has a full-time teacher and an aide who create a structured environment with activities that develop both fine and gross motor skills, language skills, sensory motor skills and social interaction skills.
Child care is in high demand across southwest Minnesota, with an estimated 3,000 kids who lack access to quality, affordable care according to a report by the Center for Rural Policy and Development. The Bright Beginnings Loan Program provides capital and business education to home- or center-based licensed child care providers in the region.
Bright Beginnings loans up to $15,000 are available for things including licensing, curriculum, playground equipment, educational toys and materials, repairs, upgrades, start-up or expansion expenses and more. Gillund used the financing to outfit her kitchen with commercial grade equipment.
“Child care continues to be a critical community need,” said SWIF Economic Development Officer Jackie Turner. “With this business, not only does Jamie get to do what she has always wanted, but she is also helping her community and the children within it grow.”
Loan programs have been a key function of SWIF since its inception to support communities and businesses throughout southwest Minnesota. In 2001, microlending was added to existing programs as a tool to support small businesses and people looking for self-employment opportunities.
Bright Beginnings microloan clients also receive free technical assistance from SWIF staff to improve their business management skills. Areas of support include business planning and financials analysis, QuickBooks training, marketing assistance and other training opportunities for the life of the loan.
This microloan program receives funding assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, contact SWIF at 800-594-9480, 320-587-4848 or [email protected].
About Southwest Initiative Foundation
Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) is a nonprofit community foundation connecting people, investing in ideas and building communities to create a southwest Minnesota where all people thrive. Since its founding in 1986, SWIF has distributed more than $97.8 million through its grantmaking and business finance programs.