Since Dividends Nebraska focuses on supporting policies that increase high-quality early childhood learning opportunities, I want to highlight some amazing work being done in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Like many small communities, Red Cloud faces a lack of child care options. Community members realized a lack of child care options is hindering economic development and affecting the early childhood development of its youngest children. Red Cloud’s child care challenges are not unlike those faced in other communities, but I believe Red Cloud’s solution is unique. Under the thoughtful leadership of a team of dedicated residents, Red Cloud is solving their problem by building The Valley Child Development Center (TVCDC), a child care center designed to offer high-quality child care to the children of Red Cloud and surrounding communities.

The idea to build and operate a child care center originated after the Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund (RCCFF) gathered input from the entire community about how best to allocate its funds to meet community needs. Community opinion made it evident that there was a tremendous need for more child care options, both for the current employers and parents, but also for future employers and residents hoping to relocate to Red Cloud.

Red Cloud and surrounding communities are currently served by only one licensed child care provider. The lack of providers and child care options has kept some potential employees from moving to Red Cloud. In other cases, current residents delayed having children, or have opted not to work outside their homes.

Having only one licensed provider in town has caused problems for employers too. Two of the larger employers in the area are a feedlot and the nursing home, and both have employees working shifts that are not always in line with typical daytime child care hours. If one spouse works at the feedlot and the other spouse works at the nursing home, it is not uncommon for the two businesses to schedule shifts around each of the spouses work schedules so the parents can care for their children. Such situations limit family time.  Presently, the reliability of child care is a huge problem because if a child care provider gets sick, it is almost certain one of the parents will have to take off work or find someone to look after their children.  The child care center being built hopes to meet the unusual hours of operations needed. It also has the added benefit of multiple staff which will allow children to come to the facility even if one teacher is sick.

The child care center also will help employers operate profitable businesses by reducing scheduling stress, employee absenteeism and providing a potential recruitment tool for families looking to move to the area with children or planning to have children.

The center will impact the level of quality child care in Red Cloud, but also help grow the community’s economy. The current plans are to employ a director with a master’s or bachelor’s degree and master teachers with bachelor’s degrees and require all assistant teachers to have at least an associate’s degree. This is great for the children, but also the community, as the center is projected to bring 10 to 12 new jobs. For any community, bringing 10 or more new, good-paying jobs is a positive. To a rural community, it is a boon.

The child care center will be located two blocks from the elementary school that houses the preschool program during the school year. The plan is to build a new sidewalk that runs directly (and safely) from the school to the child care. The child care center is being built on a campus of ample green space and next to Cherry Corner Estates, an assisted-living facility. The proximity to the assisted-living facility is especially exciting to both boards as it will incorporate intergenerational learning and interaction opportunities. It also will provide cost savings to the child care center because the two facilities will share services such as laundry and bulk food purchasing.

The child care center’s state-of-the-art facility was designed by RDG Planning and Design (which I’m happy to point out is a long-time member of Dividends Nebraska!). In addition to the capital funds needed to build the facility, The Valley Child Development Center Capital Campaign Committee in conjunction with the Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund are also fundraising a stand-alone fund to cover offset operating costs for high-quality, provide funds for ongoing staff education and training and provide scholarships to help offset tuition costs for families who fall between the cracks. The plan is to keep the costs in line with current child care provider rates. Utilization of the child care subsidy program will give working parents the opportunity to receive tuition assistance if they quality. The goal is to make tuition affordable for ALL families. The center plans to provide services to about 40 children upon opening this fall. Within four years, projections are that it will serve 60 children, and it has a capacity to care for 80 children.

TVCDC will serve children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old, will be open year-round Monday-Friday providing child care and education, and a before-and-after school program. Summer services in addition to child care will include preschool and active enrichment programs for school-age children. All-in-all the center will provide reliable, affordable, high-quality child care and education.

As director of Dividends Nebraska, I love telling the story of Red Cloud and The Valley Child Development Center. The citizens of Red Cloud decided to solve their child care problem by building and operating their own child care center. The initial thought was to fill the gap in services by building a simple building with basic services. After researching what a high-quality child care facility and operation would entail, the group decided that “just good enough” was “not good enough” for their community or its children. Instead the Child Care Planning Committee and the Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund decided the community would get its greatest return by offering high-quality care and education.

Although all of this may seem like a difficult goal for a community to accomplish, it is no pipe dream. The community has raised the funds necessary to build the facility and is in the final stages of locking in the design with a goal to break ground this spring. Although committee members have heard all manner of concerns, the foundation has received significant and broad support for the child care center. The business community understands that a high-quality early child care center will help position Red Cloud as a family-friendly community that understand the importance of early childhood education.

I plan to keep our members updated about other early childhood efforts in communities around Nebraska. Please like our Facebook page to stay notified on early childhood efforts and news.