By Deb Moldaschel, Editor / Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch
Kurk Kramer, Sleepy Eye EDA Coordinator, said that the shortage of child care options in Sleepy Eye was an issue that came up at the EDA’s planning meeting in January of 2015.
“We have a planning meeting each year and the EDA members bring up issues of importance to the community,” said Kramer. “Some might be issues they or their business has experienced; some are issues that citizens have asked them about.” In 2015 the issue of a child care shortage was one of the issues identified.
“A committee of a couple EDA members was formed and we started looking into the issue and possible solutions,” said Kramer. “In May of 2015, we started discussions with the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council to determine if the building where they operate the migrant and seasonal head start program would be appropriate as a child care center.”
Tri-Valley, a non-profit community action agency, says on their website, “Our work is committed to strengthening our communities so that its citizens have better places to live, work, worship and enjoy.” The mission of Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, Inc. is to provide opportunities to improve the quality of life for people and communities. Their focus is on child and family programs.
Tri-Valley’s program emphasis and the need for additional child care options in Sleepy Eye have now, after more than a year and a half of work and discussions, come together to create the Sleepy Eye Community Child Care Center.
Located in the Tri-Valley building, just south of Sleepy Eye Elementary School, the center will provide state-licensed (through the Minnesota Department of Human Services) child care for infant, toddler and pre-school age children. “We’ll use the Creative Curriculum in the three child care rooms,” said Patty Fernandez, Center Manager. “It’s the same program used in the migrant and seasonal head start now.”
The child care center will be a completely separate operation from the head start program said Tara Morrison, Tri-Valley Program Area Manager. “There are three classrooms available to use, across the hall from the head start rooms,” said Morrison. “We’ll be able to offer child care for eight infants—six weeks to 16 months in age; 14 toddlers—17 months to age 3; and 20 preschoolers—three to five year olds who are not yet in kindergarten.”
Fernandez and Morrison expect the center to be open from around 6:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. “The exact hours will depend on the needs of the families,” said Morrison. She said the center may also be an option for drop-in or short term care, if space is available based on the number of children in the center.
Fernandez said they are accepting applications for employment, conducting interviews and preparing the forms that will be used for parent information and care agreements. Morrison explained that families will pay rates similar to other child care centers. She said the child care center must be at least a break-even operation; Tri-Valley will not be subsidizing the center, just acting as the fiscal agent.
The child care center will supplement the home child care businesses already in the community. Kramer, of the EDA, said he sent surveys to 19 local area child care providers, asking for their input on a variety of questions concerning the child care situation in Sleepy Eye. Six providers returned completed surveys.
Kramer, Morrison and Fernandez all said that local providers have expressed some concerns about the addition of a child care center, while also confirming that they have waiting lists of families that need or will need care for their children.
This past winter and early spring St. Mary’s School looked into the feasibility of offering child care in the school—also noting the shortage of options for families. “We looked at creating a Level 2 child care, the same category offered in homes,” said Mary Gangelhoff, St. Mary’s Elementary School Principal. “We asked families to let us know if they were in need of such an option.”
When they became aware of the plan moving forward for a community child care center, St. Mary’s put their process on hold. “We decided to wait and see how the new center would meet the needs of community families,” said Gangelhoff. “We will re-evaluate the feasibility, and need for, a child care option in the school in the future.”
The Tri-Valley Sleepy Eye Community Child Care Center will host an open house soon and begin accepting registrations on a first come-first served basis. “We hope to be open for business sometime in September,” said Morrison. She and Fernandez are busy completing all the necessary details and excited to begin this new endeavor for the community.