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Wells EDA $10K grant going towards child care shortage

By Staff | Jun 2, 2019

Tiffany Schrader addresses the Wells community during an open conversation in February. She, along with a core group of members from the Wells EDA, Chamber, School District, as well as SMIF?and First Children’s Finance of Region 9, are working together to figure out the best way to address the local child care shortage.

Progress for the future generations.

The city of Wells has been working diligently on their plans to bring in more day care opportunities to the area after a shortfall of 108 child care slots was recently addressed earlier in February.

Across the 20-county region Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation serves, the need for child care is over 8,600 additional day care slots.

Because of that childcare shortage, the Wells Economic Development Authority got word in February that they were one of five communities in the region to receive a $10,000 grant from SMIF, entitled “Communities Addressing the Child Care Shortage.”

“Part of my job as the administrative associate for the City of Wells is working with the EDA and HRA on projects like this,” says Tiffany Schrader, administrative associate for the city of Wells. “I applied for the grant on behalf of the Wells EDA and child care is something the EDA?is currently very focused on.?They are prepared to put forth time, effort and funds to support whatever child care solution is right for Wells. The board members are thrilled that some of the local organizations and businesses are showing that they are willing to do the same.”

Child care is an economic driver for communities in greater Minnesota, and child care shortages have a dramatic impact on families and local economies. In the last 12 months, 87 percent of Minnesotans, aged 20-44, have participated in the workforce. With these high participation rates, access to high quality child care is of critical importance to working families.

“When families can’t find child care, they are unable to fully participate in the work-force and may eventually leave the area for other opportunities,” she says.

Schrader shares that she has had her first core team meeting with a number of local advocates as well as representatives from SMIF and First Children Finance of Region 9 to discuss and tackle the concern of day care shortages. She says people from the Wells EDA, local businesses, the Wells Area Chamber, and select members of the United South Central School Board are members of this core team.

The core team members include Teri Steckelberg from SMIF, Heidi Hagel Braid from First Children’s Finance, Wells city administrator CJ Holl, Wells EDA President and USC?School Board representative Brad Heggen, Wells EDA representative Lauren Schuster, County EDA representative Annie Leibel, Early Childhood Director and preschool teacher at USC Renae O’Rourke, Wells City Council representative Jessica Mortenson, Wells Chamber representative Megan Rauenhorst, Faribault County social worker Camela Moore, and Community Ed. coordinator at USC Laura Foley.

“We also have been working directly with Kyle Chirpich of St. Casimir’s Church, Marnie Bastian of Brakebush, Kelsey Warmka of CCF Bank, Murray Finger of Heartland Senior Living and Bryanna Sonnek and Julie Lindahl of Wells Concrete,” she says.

The first meeting was a giant brainstorming session, says Schrader. The group piled their ideas together to see what would be most manageable as far as time, and what would be most suitable for the families within the Wells area.

“We have almost exactly one year to figure out how to best use these grant dollars,” she says. “We were given the date of May 31, 2020, to complete our process, and that time will go by quickly, so we are figuring out the greatest solutions in this period of time.”

Two of the main areas of concentration for Schrader and the core team are available building space and the workforce for the child care itself.

“We are currently looking into a few options for buildings,” says Schrader. “One of them is located at CCF Bank. We will be touring their facility within a few weeks to see if their space meets our needs.”

She also says the core team has discussed providing low-interest loans for members of the community who may be interested in starting their own in-home day cares, or providing free training options for current in-home day care providers in the area.

“At this point, everything is on the table. We really want to whittle things down to see what will work best for the children and parents of Wells. That is where we will focus these grant dollars. This is a community problem and we are truly all in this together.”

Besides the actual amenities to house a potential community day care facility, another issue to tackle is finding a group of care providers who want to work at the day care.

“We need folks who are interested in providing childcare,” says Schrader. “Whether that’s in a community day care or whether that’s an in-home day care, we definitely need that workforce support.”

She also says that there is a specific age group that is more in need of child care than others.

“We still have a need for addressing infant care,” says Schrader. “We really want to work on finding care providers who would be able to close that gap for us. Infant care is the most sparse child care in our area. Currently, St. Casimir’s offers child care for students ages three and up, but not below.”

For now, Schrader and her core team will continue to brainstorm, investigate, and branch out in order to meet the needs of the Wells community and their children.

“All of the things we are currently discussing are ideas and not definite plans,” says Schrader. “The core team is looking at any options that we have right now. We are thinking outside of the box and getting creative in order to find a sustainable solution that will work for a small community like ours.