When Executive Director Kate Garrity was thinking about what to say during Wednesday night’s grand opening of Child Care Network’s Child Care Center, all she could come up with was “Oh my gosh! We did it.”
For quite a few years, the lack of available child care in Jackson County was an issue that needed to be addressed.
The new center in the Child Care Network building at 414 N. Chestnut St. in downtown Seymour will help solve that problem, as it will serve up to 145 kids ages 6 weeks to 5 years old.
Garrity thanked everyone who contributed funding to the $2 million project that allowed for renovations to be made to the former church building.
“Every time I do anything in this position, I feel like I say this, but it amazes me at all times how the community comes together to get things done,” she said. “There is no way that I or Child Care Network could have done this by ourselves. There’s absolutely no way.”
The center will open Monday.
“We right now have staff and enough kids to open three classrooms, and we’ll just open up as we have staff and kids. That way, it’s good for everybody,” Garrity said. “We can just kind of ease ourselves into this and not just all of a sudden have 100 kids in the building all at once.”
Once the center is full go, the number of staff members will go from about 35 to nearly 75. Jen Baldwin is director of the center.
“It’s going to be so exciting to hear kids laugh and play,” Garrity said. “Even kids crying is still exciting because they are here in the building and just filling that great of a need.”
When she started in her position eight years ago, Garrity said she was told the nonprofit organization needed to figure out how to create a child care center.
“Conversations happened, and I learned that it wasn’t a new conversation,” she said. “This conversation has been happening for about 30 years, but unfortunately, it just never got traction, and it definitely didn’t get the financial backing that we would need for this to happen.”
About three years ago, Early Learning Indiana coined the term child care desert and put numbers and a definition behind it. Working with data from the 2019 Indiana Kids Count Data for Jackson County, Child Care Network calculated the county had 7.9 children per child care seat, more than double the 3.0 children-per-seat ratio that earns the child care desert designation.
During community conversations, the need for quality child care and the issue of poverty bubbled up to the top. At the time, there were only five licensed child care centers in the county with one being Head Start and the other four being the preschool classrooms operated by Child Care Network. Otherwise, there were 15 child care homes and six ministries located within Jackson County.
“We have more than twice the number of kids (per child care seat). That is the definition of a child care desert,” Garrity said. “Once we were able to put those numbers behind it, this project really took off, and we were able to get the backing that we needed.”
In September 2020, Garrity said Child Care Network’s board took a great leap of faith and purchased the building on North Chestnut Street.
Seymour Harvest Church operated from the building for 17 years before selling to Child Care Network and moving to a new location on U.S. 31. The building previously housed Central Christian Church for 86 years. It moved out in June 2002.
Heather VonDielingen, co-president of the Child Care Network board with Curtis Miller, said the decision to move forward with buying the building came during a strategic planning session in July 2020.
“We made the motion, it was seconded, we all voted to purchase the building not knowing if we were going to get that large-scale grant, so we kind of all just said, ‘If we’re not willing to take this risk, is it ever going to be done?’” she said. “We wanted to be the organization to do that.”
In late 2020, the Community Foundation of Jackson County received a boost on #GivingTuesday with news it was awarded a $1.8 million Large-Scale Community Leadership Grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
The grant, funded through the seventh phase of Lilly Endowment’s Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow initiative, would help Child Care Network develop and operate a community child care center.
The foundation was one of 11 in Indiana to receive the grant as part of a competitive component of the GIFT VII initiative. Lilly Endowment encouraged Indiana’s community foundations to deepen their understanding of the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing their local communities, rank them and develop plans to address those challenges and opportunities.
“We are blessed to have received this grant and the confidence of the folks at Lilly Endowment,” said Dan Davis, president and chief executive officer of the community foundation. “That $1.8 million grant provided $1 million to help remodel and furnish this lovely building, provided $530,000 as stipends for low-income families using the center and endowed $270,000 at the foundation to provide operating funds for the Child Care Center in perpetuity.”
The project had strong community support. Financial and in-kind supporters were the city of Seymour, Seymour Redevelopment Commission, Jackson County United Way board of directors, Royalty Companies, Child Care Network, Schneck Foundation, Turning Point Domestic Violence Services, Kocolene Development Corp. and the community foundation’s board of directors through Impact Grants beyond the GIFT VII grant.
Providing letters of support for the large grant were Aisin Holdings of America Inc., Cummins Inc. and Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.
“This community support was essential to the success of our application and illustrates how important and successful and necessary collaboration is in our community,” Davis said.
As for the city’s role, after Child Care Network publicly announced the project in 2020, it requested and was approved for $50,000 in funding from the redevelopment commission.
Then in March of this year, the city council awarded $200,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act COVID-19 pandemic relief funding to Child Care Network. The pandemic caused delays in the renovation project and an increase in prices. In her request, Garrity told the council that the agency was about $450,000 short to complete the project.
“They both really came through for the community,” Davis said. “The city’s ARPA money there this summer really pushed the project across the finish line. We’re very grateful for that.”
The ribbon cut during Wednesday’s grand opening was unique. Kids who were in the building over winter break dipped their hands in white paint and put their handprints on a blue ribbon to reflect Child Care Network’s logo.
Child Care Center hours will be 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those hours are longer than the before- and after-school Kids Klub sites.
“At most schools right now, we often have a waiting list, and we only are able to operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.” Garrity said. “We’re working on seeing if we can bus (school-aged) kids back and forth so we can extend that day because the primary shifts in town are 5 to 5 and 6 to 6.”
The first floor of the building includes a Kids Klub room, two classrooms for 4-year-olds, a new kitchen and staff offices, including space for Jackson County Guardian ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocates.
The second floor has two classrooms each for 1-, 2- and 3-year-olds, two infant rooms and a multipurpose play area. The latter was the former location of the church’s sanctuary.
“The outdoor playground will probably be installed in April,” Garrity said. “We have to wait until the temperature is regularly above 40 degrees (for the pour-in-place surface), so they are storing the playground equipment for us right now.”
Royalty Companies of Seymour was the general contractor for the renovation project, and that firm had subcontractors complete some of the work.
“All in all, we have put just under $2 million into the renovation of this building,” Garrity said. “That would not have happened without the support of the community … so we greatly appreciate it.”