For working parents in isolated rural communities, quality child care is a lifeline that allows them an opportunity for employment so they can provide for their families.
So when U.S.D.A. Rural Development was approached by a child development center in eastern Kentucky that was in need of expansion so it could serve parents on a waiting list, the agency provided a $75,000 Community Facilities grant to make it happen.
Appalachian Early Child Development Center opened as a non-profit center in 2003 in Letcher County, which is one of Kentucky’s 43 persistent poverty counties. A new daycare center was desperately needed, as there are only a handful of statelicensed childcare facilities to serve a population of more than 23,000.
Administrator Bonita Adams and Director Faye Martin were the driving force behind the center and went above and beyond the call of duty to bring their idea to fruition. Each woman contributed equal parts of the start-up money necessary to get it off the ground.
The grant will make life easier for parents whose independence is contingent upon their ability to find quality child care services in their community. It has a special impact in an economically depressed region where low-income families face economic hardships on a number of fronts.
The center hosted an open house on May 21 to celebrate the new addition, inviting local, state and federal officials that had a hand in making it happen.
Rural Development State Director Tom Fern participated in the program and expressed his congratulations and support for such an important and worthwhile project.
Fern said this project highlights the Obama administration’s focus on pro- grams for improving education and child care, emphasizing the center’s role in the community as not only a daycare facility, but as a quality learning center.
“When we started, the local Adult Education Center gave us their old shelving and we also scouted out the local elementary schools throwaways for items to be used in our classrooms,” said Adams. “Faye would make chicken dinners and I would deliver them in order to earn enough money to hire a lawyer to develop our Articles of Incorporation and other legal necessities to start our new center. We did what we had to do to make it happen.”
Although keeping the center open is a struggle — state childcare subsidies have not increased in several years, although operating costs have — the women believe the challenges they face pale in comparison to the benefit to the community. They are acutely aware of the need for dependable, affordable childcare and the important service their center provides.
“We do it for the children. It’s such a nice place for them with the homelike atmosphere and the surrounding grounds, so even when it’s hard and looks hopeless we know we have to keep it going for the children and their families,” said Adams.
The center has received financial assistance from Rural Development in the past, as well as support from the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, past and present County Judge/ Executives Carroll Smith and Jim Ward, the Letcher County Fiscal Court and State Representatives Ancil Smith and Leslie Combs. In February, the center partnered with the LKLP Head Start Program to incorporate its infant/toddlers into the Early Head Start Program, which will help with meeting the expenses the center incurs in its day-today operations.
The women approached Rural Development for assistance because the center had only one-fourth of the money needed for a $100,000 project to build a new 600 square-foot classroom and install a handicapped accessible bathroom. The classroom addition has allowed the center to increase enrollment by 16 children.
“With the new classroom, we went from an enrollment of 22 to 38 and took in three new children last week,” said Adams. “We want parents and grandparents to know there are still spaces available.”
Appalachian Childcare currently has a level 2 STARS rating from the state of Kentucky, with hopes it will progress on to a level 3. They will find out the first of June.
STARS for KIDS NOW, is Kentucky’s voluntary quality rating system for licensed Type I and Type II child care centers and certified family child care homes that surpass the minimum licensing requirements. The system uses a scale of 1to 4 STARS to identify levels of quality. Programs are assessed in the following areas: staff/ child ratios, group size, curriculum, parental involvement, training/education of staff , regulatory compliance and personnel practices.
“The grant from Rural Development gave us an opportunity to serve more children, and maintain a quality center,” said Adams. “It gave us equipment we’ve never had like a working copier, computers and new phones — we had been supplying our own computers and begging everyone in the Whitesburg area for the use of their copiers and faxes. It also allowed us to upgrade our outdoor area and play equipment.
“We can’t say enough about Greg Pridemore and Vernon Brown and their assistance in the grant-writing process. We’re so thankful to them for their help . . . and so thankful to Rural Development.”
U.S.D.A. Rural Development administers and manages more than 40 housing, business, and community infrastructure and facility programs through a network of 6,100 employees in 500 offices at the national, state and local level. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers, and improve the quality of life in rural America. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of more than $134 billion in loans and loan guarantees. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development’s web site at www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/ coops/csdir.htm.