The president of Appleseed Childhood Education says a $1 million early learning center set to open in January in Rensselaer will combat a childcare desert in Jasper County. The nonprofit last week received a more than $130,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program. Adam Alson says the grant shows that the USDA recognizes that access to high-quality childcare and early learning is an important issue for rural communities.
Speaking from his farm in Jasper County, Alson told Inside INdiana Business childcare and early learning education are not common in rural areas.
“To some extent, the reason why early learning and childcare doesn’t exist in rural communities both like ours and then also throughout the state is, frankly, it just does not make money,” said Alson. “The full cost of care for high-quality early learning is $14,000 per child per year. Here in Jasper County, just like in many other rural communities…families can’t afford it.”
Appleseed is currently renovating a building at 1102 East Grace Street in Rensselaer that when complete, will provide daytime childcare for 73 children ages six weeks to five years old.
The location is part of the Franciscan Health Rensselaer hospital campus, and was first announced in January.
The center will be operated by Lafayette-based nonprofit Right Steps Child Development Centers, which operates similar centers in Lafayette, Goodland and Remington, the latter of which is currently the only licensed childcare center in Jasper County.
When it opens, the facility will employ about 20 people.
Despite what he says is an inevitable profit loss, Alson says need for a new early learning center outweighs the negatives.
“How we’re attacking this instead is we’re saying, ‘Can we as a community and do we as a place want this thing in our community? Do we want high-quality early childhood education?’ In this area, we’re saying, ‘Yes.’ It’s all of us coming together as a community and saying we acknowledge that we as a place have to have high-quality early childhood education in order to survive and thrive in the next 15-20 years.”
Alson says Appleseed has been able to raise over $1 million for the project, and he hopes to continue that fundraising to keep the center operational.
“We just have a lot of great partners, and we have to do it this way because, truthfully, this is a local problem that right now, there’s really no state and very little federal funding for creating and sustaining high-quality early learning centers in Indiana. So, it ends up being a local problem that has to be solved locally.”
Alson adds the project will be a proof of concept for potential expansion. He says there are many other communities who have reached out to him expressing a need to solve the same problem.
“I hope we have more than one center in a couple years, but the future will be what the future is. The one thing that I do want to make sure is clear is that the need is everywhere throughout rural Indiana.”
The USDA funding will be used to purchase classroom and kitchen equipment for the center.