Brainstorming Creates a Silver Lining – and a Survey – During the Pandemic
“What are the greatest strengths of your community?”
This was one of the questions that McCook’s Communities for Kids team asked in a survey sent to their families.
When Andy Long and the McCook Communities for Kids team put together this questionnaire, they were looking for answers, but not just any answers.
The team sought to create incentivizing opportunities for early care providers to open centers in their area. So, when the core team created and sent out the questionnaire, they were looking for clues to build on their community’s pre-existing strengths.
One of these strengths include a community with robust early childhood education and care. Andy Long, Executive Director at McCook Economic Development Corporation and early childhood advocate, was struck by a seminar he attended which featured the concept of brain-friendly communities.
“A brain-friendly community is one where the kids have enough; the [childcare] centers have everything they need,” said Andy.
This vision ties particularly well into Nebraska Children’s vision. As an organization that strives for every child to thrive and reach his or her full potential, Andy’s words resonate with our own.
Whereas we have recently undergone some undeniably difficult times, a brain-friendly community puts aside its differences to have a meeting-of-the-minds. McCook Communities for Kids is no exception.
Communities for Kids (C4K) is one of our Early Childhood initiatives. The program further amplifies the concept of communities creating positive change. This initiative’s goal is to ensure that connections are made to create quality early childhood programs and supported caregivers.
When the C4K team received the survey responses, they made decisions based on their community’s strengths and opportunities. The goal was to create a series of incentives that would benefit and increase the quality and presence of early childhood professionals in their area.
Good Things Come in 3s: McCook Launches their Plan to Incentivize Childcare Professionals
The brainchildren of this survey were then born. Based on the responses, McCook’s C4K created three early childhood initiatives:
- Infant Incentive – Providers receive an extra $250 per baby to increase infant care
- Jump Start – $3,000 of start-up funds were awarded to three providers who completed an eight-week online class online classes and planned to open a new childcare center
- Full-Ride Scholarships – Awarded to participants enrolled in McCook Community College’s Early Childhood Education program. The scholarship includes 15 credit hours, tuition, and some fees for those who upon degree completion plan to stay in the area
Money Talks…and So Do Providers: Program Participants Describe Their Experience
Denise Kalinski, the director of an in-home childcare center, is among those recipients of the Infant Incentive. Denise exhibits a true passion for caring for children from the cradle into childhood. She also said she appreciated the extra income.
Denise said that she enjoys establishing bonds with children early on in their lives.
“I’d rather raise [children],” said Denise when asked what aspects drew her to the program.
“They’ll get used to you,” she said. “They ARE your kids! My favorite is when their dad comes to pick them up, and they cry! I say, ‘I LOVE it!’ [The babies] see me a lot. I’m open for ten hours a day.”
Denise has been the proud caregiver to over 100 babies. She doesn’t intend to stop any time soon.
“My kids are having kids,” she said. In addition to caring for generations of children, Denise said she believes that this relationship is ideal for the children as well.
“It’s a better upbringing,” Denise said regarding infant-provider care. “When they’re an infant, you need to watch them. When you watch the baby, you develop a knowledge, like a mom. You’ll begin to say, ‘That’s the hungry cry.’ Parents will text me to ask how the baby is doing. Trust is there,” she said.
Amanda, one of the Jump Start participants, relayed her positive experience, too. The eight-week program comprises a $3,000 award to early care providers who plan to open a nearby center. In exchange, the attendees will take courses which emphasize budgeting, marketing, and handbook policies.
Amanda, who has a nursing background, said she felt some anxiety when she first contemplated opening a childcare center.
“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “Unless you’re doing the job, you don’t understand how much work you’re putting in, and I’ve never been the director of a center.”
Amanda said that since taking the online courses, she possesses a renewed sense of confidence. “Now, I feel as if I am the right person,” she said. “Before, I had doubts; now I don’t.”
The creation of handbooks course component that Amanda found particularly helpful. Amanda said that, thanks to the policy-driven portion of the class, she is now prepared to deal with many hypothetical but likely situations.
“If a parent pays late or if their check bounces, I know what to do,” said Amanda. “The policies [portion of the course] were by far the most helpful.”
Amanda said she learned a lot from the class’s marketing component as well. “The most helpful part was working on budgeting and thinking of marketing as a vehicle,” said Amanda. “Things started to click; [the course] put us in contact with local people who wanted to help.”
Between the support of the course, her bank, and her community, Amanda said she now feels confident and prepared to open her center.
Finally, we spoke with Kylea Stritt, one of the scholarship recipients currently enrolled in McCook Community College’s Early Childhood Education program. Kylea expressed her gratitude for the scholarship, as she would now graduate debt-free and with a sense of professional clarity.
Kylea said, “This scholarship guaranteed that I won’t have to worry about college debt if I meet all of its guidelines.”
She said another invaluable takeaway is that she was able to thoroughly explore and decide to pursue a career in Early Childhood.
“The scholarship assured me that the career path I chose is the right choice for me!” said Kylea. Kylea displayed a similar enthusiasm when she shared her experiences working hands-on with children.
“I love seeing their personalities come out the more we get comfortable around each other, and watching the excitement on the kids’ face[s] when they show their parents all of the new things that they learned,” she said.