Kids Place Aiming To Raise $1 Million To Cement Future In Glenwood

Brittany Jones teaches a lesson on weather to her preschool class at KIds Place

Mari Watson and her toddler classroom enjoy some playgrond time at Kids Place.

In Iowa, 23% of all residents live in a childcare desert – a census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contain either no childcare providers or so few that there are more than three times as many children as licensed childcare slots.

In rural areas, that figure jumps to 35%.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 100,000 Americans stay home each month because of childcare problems. That represents a $122 billion economic toll in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue.

A 2023 study showed 52% of mothers are considering leaving the workforce due to inadequate childcare, with 33% unable to find affordable care already out of work.

Mills County isn’t immune to any of those childcare challenges.

And those statistics? There’s a danger they could get even worse.

Kids Place, the county’s largest licensed childcare provider that has served the community since the 1990s, is facing the prospect of finding new facilities or shutting its doors permanently.

Kids Place provides care for 100 kindergarten, infant, toddler and school-age care 5:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Another 70 families are on a waiting list to enroll. Parents can wait years for a slot in the daycare.

The facility has operated out of leased space in the 801 S. Vine building on the Glenwood Resource Center campus for decades. But with the upcoming closure of the GRC and long-time partners at the Glenwood Community School District moving forward with new facility plans that don’t include Kids Place, the childcare provider is facing uncertainty.

But they aren’t going down without a fight.

The Kids Place Childcare Champions committee was formed with the task of saving the longtime daycare. The committee of parents, past and present Kids Place employes and concerned citizens, has a non-profit, tax-deductible designation, a goal of raising $1 million and a determination to see Kids Place go on for years to come.

Michaela Doherty serves on the committee. A behavior support teacher at West Elementary, she not only has a child currently enrolled at Kids Place, but she also attended the program herself as a pre-schooler and later worked at the daycare.

Tim Reinert, chief financial officer for the Glenwood Community School District, is also on the committee, as is former longtime Kids Place director Rhonda Mairs.

Reinert has assisted the committee in setting up the financial behind-the-scenes for their fundraising efforts, Doherty said.

The committee meets twice a month. Grant proposals have already gone out and the group is busy plotting grassroot fundraising

The committee is targeting a $1 million goal. They hope to have the bulk of those funds in hand Jan. 1, 2025.

The plan is to self-fund the build out and equipping a portion of the school district’s planned new building that will be constructed north of the high school. That building is slated to house the district’s central administrative offices, the THRIVE alternative high school and a planned innovation center.

Under community pressure that opposed the childcare center’s continuing relationship with the district, the school board voted earlier this spring to exclude Kids Place from its plans for the new, 40,000 square building. The GRC will shut its doors this summer, but the district will retain its presence on the campus through Summer 2025.

The board approved a $4.25 million revenue bond to help pay for the $6 million new facility, which is expected to be completed in Fall of 2025.

Doherty wasn’t surprised by the opposition to Kids Place. She said she knew there was a fraction of the community that did not support the daycare. What surprised her was just how outspoken that opposition was.

“I knew there were people that were not for Kids Place,” Doherty said. “And not just for Kids Place, for all childcare in general. I know there is a part of this community that don’t see the need for childcare and that’s something we’re going to be working against.

“Even if Kids Place closes and we try to find another solution, we’re always going to be challenging those people that don’t see a need for childcare in the community.”

Doherty added the committee hopes to use its social media and community outreach as a platform to combat that very sentiment. The need for quality, affordable childcare statewide and specifically in the Glenwood community has never been greater.

“We want to figure out how to flip those people who don’t see the need for childcare to supporting (Kids Place),” she said.
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Rhonda Mairs knows the history of Kids Place as well as anyone. She was there from beginning.

She worked at the facility for 28 years, starting in the program’s early years under director Deb Rodenberg as an associate before retiring as the facility’s director in 2020.

The Kids Place program itself was born out of the school’s district’s “Latch Key” before-and-after school care program, then housed at Northeast Elementary. That was the fall of 1991 and Mairs recalls slots in the program filling up very fast.

“There was high demand for day care even then, just like now,” Mairs said. “Parents had no place to send their kids.”

The facility opened at 5:45 a.m. to support early morning workers at the Glenwood Resource Center and closed at 6:30 p.m. to accommodate commuting workers.

When the GCSD central office was moved to GRC campus a few years later, the district decided to move the pre-school programs on the hill as well. They opened what become Kids Place shortly after, welcoming 3 to 5-year-olds full-time.

The building was leased annually from the state for $1. The facility did have to cover its own utilities – about $10,000 monthly – but operating costs were kept low, and the program’s entire budget was covered by enrollment fees, fundraisers and grants.

“We would get them to their pre-school classes and then they’d come back to us for daycare,” Mairs recalled of the early childcare program. “It grew really fast. I started with maybe six kids, and we needed to hire new people really fast. It worked really well. We tried to have the same guidelines and same rules. The kids could transition between each grade group easily.”

Not long after that program began to take off, infant care was added.

“For a long time, we were the only center-based program around,” she said. “Infant care is hard to find. We grew really quick in those departments and had a waiting list almost right away.”

Mairs said Kids Place thrived because of the support of the school district. The two co-existed and grew – with the GCSD governing Kids Place but operating independently – because there was a need.

“The community, the public had a need and the school (district) put their hand out to help. The district did a lot. That’s how it was,” she said. “People put their heads together and figured out something that would work. Seems like there’s people on different sides now and it’s political. Bottom line is (Kids Place) has tried to help to future kids be successful and get them the best care.”

When the school board buckled and left Kids Place out of its new building plans, Mairs was confused by both the decision and a “vocal minority” opposed to Kids Place.

“I just don’t understand why there isn’t full support by the school district and the community,” she said. “We were identifying kids at young age and directing them and their parents to programs that could assist them so these kids would start school in good form.

“We would refer to public health or somebody else. We were always trying bottom line to make the best for kids. It was safety net and we all worked together.”

Mairs called it a “shame” that the community support for the program she helped build sits so perilously close to shutting its doors, its very existence relegated to social media postings and criticisms the school district “shouldn’t be in the childcare business.”

“It’s disheartening,” Mairs said. “Instead of people getting together and thinking about it and solving the issues, it’s people saying it (Kids Place) is not their problem. Or they bad mouth it. Who will move here if we don’t have good childcare?”

Doherty doesn’t blame the school board for its decision to cut Kids Place out of its future facilities plans. Economics in such situations can drive decisions as much as emotions. Despite the vote going against them, she said the district has been and will continue to be supportive of the Champions committee’s efforts.

“I understood where they were coming from when they decided to not build Kids Place into the new building,” Doherty said. “But since then, I’ve felt they’ve been supportive. They want us to succeed. They want us to meet our goals. This is what the opposition to the bonds and Kids place wanted. They wanted Kids Place to raise this money for themselves and that’s what we’re doing. The board has supported that.”

On May 28, the committee and the board of education entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalized that support. As part of that agreement, the committee agreed to donate the funds raised to the board and the board agreed to use those funds for the build out of space in the new building for Kids Place.

Space in the new building would only serve the needs of Kids Place better with the potential for new facilities, expanded classrooms and raised capacities. It would cement Kids Place’s future in the community for generations to come, well beyond the current board and public opposition to its relationship with the district.

“I just think the school district, the community, the businesses, the more the better in getting and putting heads together to make something work is good for everyone,” Mairs said. “Kids Place and the community, the school district, businesses, parents, they all benefited from working together.

“I hope we can find a best solution for all the children that need Kids Place’s help, and this works out. I don’t want to scare people away from Glenwood because there’s not good childcare. We have good childcare right here.”

The Opinion-Tribune

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