The lack of reliable childcare options in the Bristol Bay Borough impacts parents, children, employers, and the community at large. A group of residents is working on a solution. They now have $80,000 from the Borough to develop a certified childcare center.
Esther Pepin and her seven month old son, Leo, sit with me on the floor of an empty room in the Bristol Bay Borough School. She explains her vision for the room.
“It is probably about 1600 square feet and has very old carpet and old linoleum, and we are looking at renovating and turning it into a safe and beautiful place for children to learn and for teachers to reflect on their learning.”
Pepin taught Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten in this class room last year, but after Leo was born, she could not find available, reliable childcare.
“I had to quit my job,” she says, “so that I could take care of my seven month old. I was a teacher, and I love being a stay at home mom, but when I became one, I realized that my story was reflected in people on a weekly basis. I would see public postings for, ‘I need a baby sitter. I have to go to work. I have a job. I have to meet my rent, and I need somebody to take care of my kid.’”
There are no certified childcare centers in the Naknek, South Naknek, and King Salmon communities that make up the Bristol Bay Borough where Pepin lives. In March, she and a group of Bristol Bay residents began meeting to discuss the problem, which they say frequently leads parents to quit their jobs or move away. Their solution? Little Angels Childcare Academy. The non-profit has acquired a facility use contract to rent the room where Pepin used to teach.
Sharon Thompson has been a part of the planning committee from the beginning. She recently turned down a job offer because she could not find reliable childcare. Thompson explains their passion for the program.
“The brain develops so rapidly during those first couple years of life. It’s just—the potential for learning and the need for nurturing and safe and consistent care of children is just critical, and that’s what we want to address.” Thompson says, “It’s not just childcare. It’s early childhood education.”
In order to be licensed with the state of Alaska, the facility for Little Angels needs to be ready for inspection. So, on Monday, they took it to the Bristol Bay Borough Assembly meeting to ask for $100,000 in development funds. About a dozen business owners, parents, and childcare workers spoke in support of the program. The room was full, and some who came sat on the floor. Local resident Dave Lax explains how he sees the lack of childcare effect the community.
“As an employer,” says Lax, “we have three young people working for us now that all suffer from the childcare issue. And it’s—for a small community like us—I think it’s a tough challenge to try to develop a childcare center that can support that need that the companies in town need have to be able to hire people and provide quality jobs.”
The Borough approved a donation of $80,000. Carl Anderson, mayor of the Bristol Bay Borough said after the vote that childcare is something the community needs.
“Being a young parent myself, I know we had times where it was hard to find a babysitter or hard to drive all the way across town to drop off a babysitter, so I’m excited for people to have the opportunity to get what they need.”
That money, Thompson says, will go toward furniture, equipment, materials, and renovation required to set up the center. Little Angels Childcare Academy hopes to open January 1, 2017 and will initially have spots for 10 students.
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