“You can’t put teachers and kids on the streets,” Stu Kissick, who has children at Calvary Lutheran School said.

Calvary school will close its doors Jan. 31, 2017, and there are plans for Calvary staff and students to transition to a new facility. Joyful Noise, a Gering early childcare provider, closed its doors Friday (Oct. 28).

When Kissick first heard of Calvary’s impending closure, he panicked.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Kissick along with other parents regrouped and formed a committee to establish the Twin Cities Early Child Care Center. Last week, the program received approval to become a nonprofit, but numerous hurdles remain.

Calvary Director Becky Jo Wylie said facility workers and the families they serve are fortunate the facility will remain open through the rest of the year. It was originally slated to close Oct. 28.

Calvary was impacted by the recent minimum wage increase, Wylie said. Most daycare staff make minimum wage or just above that. The increase meant a 10-percent increase in payroll for many area day cares that they were unable to afford.

A forgotten resource

Cindy Molina, who serves as an independent contractor with Step up to Quality, a Nebraska nonprofit that advises early childcare providers, said providers are not babysitters. Parents and providers agreed that area early childcare providers are a vital community service — they can’t go away.

That’s why Kissick and other parents founded TECC, but they face steep challenges.

The TECC committee will have to find the funds to get a building permit to begin construction at the building it plans to move to, which requires plans approved by architects.

“We need stamped, signed drawings, which will tell us what we need for our space and occupancy requirements. (The architects will) say ‘You need a certain number of exits, a certain number of toilets and a certain level of fire suppression to be safe,” Kissick said.

TECC can’t begin renovating the building for a planned facility until the architectural drawings are approved by city officials. Once the plans are stamped and approved, TECC only has two months to get a facility up and running.

The architectural plans alone will cost $17,500.

“That doesn’t buy us the first hammer or bag of nails,” Kissick said. “These things all add up. The architects are great and understanding people. We’re looking at a timeline, looking at the space constraint. We’re asking them to work for a reduced rate or for free — or at least work on credit. What else can we do?”

Kissick said the community must come together and understand the importance of early childcare. Not only does it impact children and their families, it affects the area’s economy.

“We provide all-day care,” Wylie said, “If parents don’t have childcare available, they can’t go to work.”

Parents fear that the community has forgotten early childcare providers. It’s not a popular cause to fundraise for, Kissick said.”

“We have enough parks. Businesses are doing OK,” Kissick said. “This is one of those businesses that could use a hand up."

“It’s different between generations, and it takes a village to raise a child,” Molina said.

In the past, a parent would stay home with the children, but times have changed. Today, most often both parents work or, in many cases, only one parent is around to do it all.

If a parent needs to stay home to care for a child they have to leave work impacting employers and the local economy.

“When that’s realized — when that’s understood — the mission (getting TECC open) will be supported by the community,” Kissick said.

Kissick said he knows the community is capable of banding together and addressing the problem — and doing so is vital.

“It’s part of the greater model of societal responsibility. If you have a minimum wage job somewhere, it should still be economically viable for you to go to work,” Kissick said.

“We need a bigger push. We’re talking about 100 kids and 25 staff (between Calvary and Joyful Noise). We need a place and we need to figure out how we’re going to come up with the money as a community.”

A generous donor, whom Kissick declined to name, donated the building and may donate money for renovations. The anonymous donor may help fund TECC renovations, if financially feasible.

“One person started the checking account with a $3,000 check. It started the organization. Someone came forward on the first day and said, ‘I’ll do that.’ He also offered to buy appliances and chairs,” Kissick said.

He added that the appliances and chairs for the planned facility will cost anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000.

Kissick said TECC secured a revolving line of credit as an organizations. He said it will cover payroll expenses and food for children.

“We’re in charge of our financial destiny,” Kissick said, but the organization is still relying on generous donors. “We are relying on someone else to cover renovations and operating expenses. If they can’t bare it, we’re on the street. What we’re providing to the community as a non profit is essential to the community. It’s essential to the workforce,” he added.

Regulatory hurdles

Wylie will transition from Calvary to TECC after TECC opens next year. The same staff and children will also work at and attend the planned facility.

Molina said it should be easier for TECC to secure grant funding that is not available to religious organizations, she said.

Still, it won’t be easy.

Dianne Kvasnicka is the program manager for Children Services Licensing at the Nebraska Department of Health’s Family and Children’s Services Division.

Kvasnicka listed what childcare facilities must do to obtain a license.

Inspectors check on everything from the types of cribs children are placed in to the state of their kitchen. Early childcare facilities have to meet the same health and sanitation requirements as restaurants. In addition to that, they also have to be safe for children.

When the state comes to inspect, inspectors will have to be meticulous, Kvasnicka said.

“There was a recent inspection where an inspector was going to license a facility, and there was no building,” Kvasnicka said. “They submitted everything but just had some drywall up. There was nothing we could look at. We had to reschedule the inspection.”

The process is thorough, Kvasnicka said, but inspectors try to get the inspection completed as quickly as possible.

“We realize the impact that this has on parents in the community,” Kvasnicka said. “We’re in the business of licensing folks — and we want to make sure that’s done as efficiently as possible. We need to ensure full compliance of regulations.”

Wylie has worked in early childcare since she was 19. Twenty-one years later, she has seen numerous changes, most notably an increased awareness of the importance of the first five year’s of a child’s life.

That’s when children learn basic skills, including how to count, how to learn to read from left-to-right. The basic motor skills a child learns playing simple games at a young age translates into the skills needed to be successful in kindergarten through early elementary.

If children aren’t successful during those years — if they don’t get the quality care they need — how can they be successful throughout life, she asked.

Uncertain future

Some parents have already found places for their children, however, many are still looking and hoping TECC becomes a reality before Calvary closes.

January 31 will come and go. What remains uncertain, however, is the fate of the children currently at Calvary Lutheran School. If TECC is unable to get up and running, up to 66 children and 13 daycare staff may have nowhere to go.

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