Bethany Lutheran, Needs Council eye facilities


Fredericksburg simply does not have enough childcare to fill the growing need. Most local childcare facilities come with lengthy waiting lists and enrollment can often take upward of two years for a child.

Even among the childcare institutions available, many are outpriced for local families already struggling to afford a home.

But there are organizations in Fredericksburg aware of the need and work is being done to help.

Bethany Preschool is one of Fredericksburg’s largest childcare facilities, and is one of the ministries of Bethany Lutheran Church.

The preschool at Bethany launched in 1983. In 2019, the church had a plan to expand its preschool building and program significantly. But the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns put a delay in the campaign effort.

But now the plan is back on the table for the church.

“I’ve been here 28 years and the congregation loves kids,” said the Rev. Casey Zesch.

Bethany Lutheran Church owns the lot at the corner of West Austin and North Crockett streets. It hopes to move forward with the construction of a new preschool building. But the plan’s resurrection has its challenges.

“We had started our long-range plan around 2013 and we wanted to include a preschool,” Zesch said. “In December 2019, we voted to build. But we started our capital campaign in 2020 and COVID hit. So, we went back to get a contractor’s estimate again and it had almost doubled in price.”

Because of the cost increase, the staff of Bethany has decided to bring the project back to the congregation for a vote.

“The congregation votes in January,” said Zesch. “We know we can’t do it just ourselves. Our basic plan is, we will have a capital campaign and then a community campaign, because of the community’s concern about it these last six years.”

Zesch would like to see construction begin in late spring or early fall of 2023 if the church votes to support the expansion.

Bill Heath, a member at Bethany Lutheran Church and chairman of the capital campaign for the project, is aware the project will require support outside of the church.

“There is no doubt it is going to have to require a follow-up, broad campaign within the city,” said Heath. “So it would be really instrumental to familiarize people with what it is we’re setting about doing.”


Church childcare

It may be that churches are the best positioned institutions for filling the local childcare need.

Unlike independent facilities, churches often own buildings with multiple rooms, bathrooms and a kitchen.

In addition to a building, churches have a built-in ability to spread the costs of a childcare program throughout their congregations.

For Bethany Lutheran Church, the childcare ministry has been an integral part of its church mission for many years.

“It’s an outreach in church,” Zesch said. “They have a passion for kids. Some of them still work with our preschool that were on the committee that first started the preschool, because they saw a need for it.”

Cheryl Flink is the director of Bethany Preschool. She is aware that non-church facilities have a great challenge in keeping costs affordable.

“You have to charge (high tuition) to fill the classrooms with staff appropriate for the age group you have,” Flink said. “That’s just the way it goes. You want to have good people, so you want to pay well.”

The high prices in those businesses then put a heavy cost burden on already budget-tight families.

“It’s hard to charge that because a lot of time parents have an infant, but they also have a 2-year-old,” Flink described. “So now you’re paying 2-year-old tuition and infant tuition. That can be $2,000 or more. So why not just stay home?”

In addition to an advantage on building costs, churches also have the advantage of working from a pool of inherent volunteers to help keep the classrooms stocked and clean.

“I hadn’t realized how profoundly fortunate church preschools are because we don’t make it on tuition,” Zesch said. “We have to have fundraisers and donations. That’s the only way we can keep our rates low. And I just ache for those starting their own preschool. I don’t know financially how you do it.”


Non-profit childcare

With a more wholistic understanding of the struggles and needs of families in the community, the Hill Country Community Needs Council (HCCNC) also has a plan for helping with the crisis.

The HCCNC has plans to begin construction on an infant care facility. Infant care is an area of significant need, and their program would provide for newborns to age three.

“Our goal is to start building in late spring if we can get the plans and the bids out,” said Cindy Heifner, executive director for the HCCNC.

Because the Needs Council has programs that help with various family needs, Heifner sees the larger scale impact that childcare has on families.

“With some of our families, one of them would work a night shift to cover being with the child at home all day,” Heifner said. “They had to go to less income or less sleep and more stress.”

Heifner sees how that stress within the household often contributes to a rise in domestic violence or addiction among family members.

One solution Heifner would like to see is a two-for-one approach to childcare and affordable housing. As neighborhoods and apartment complexes are constructed, Heifner hopes those living communities might provide childcare in their plans.

In this way, affordable housing and childcare are bundled together to help those families work and thrive in Fredericksburg life.

With infant care being the greatest need, Heifner hopes the infant care program will help relieve some of the overall community burden.

“If we concentrate on that younger group, that relieves a little bit of the Bethanys and others that are trying to accommodate infants,” Heifner said.


No quick fix

Both Bethany Lutheran Church and the HCCNC are actively addressing the local childcare need. But these solutions won’t be overnight.

“General church campaigns run three years,” Zesch said. “So, if we started a campaign, if the church votes yes, we’d probably start at least late spring or early fall.”

Both the Bethany Preschool and Needs Council projects will take years to complete.

Despite the challenging conditions, these institutions, and perhaps others, are increasingly aware of the need and doing what they can to help.

These groups are aware that these childcare rooms must be affordable and accessible to local families.

“Where it gets tricky keeping the mission at hand, which is providing the care, but keeping it low cost,” Flink said.

With growing community awareness, the organization of government leaders and the leadership of some of these institutions, hope is on the horizon for Fredericksburg families.

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