McCook’s Childcare Story: A Journey, a Destination, and a Goal
In 2019, when McCook decided to increase access to childcare, they didn’t know what the future would bring. In 2021, the community has come incredibly far, but they’re still surging ahead.
The beginning of their journey to increase access to early care looks very different than the destination. But the residents of McCook all agree on one thing: they want to increase quality care and education for children.
To find out more about the community’s early care and education efforts, challenges, and dreams, we spoke with Milva McGhee, the Early Childhood Community Coordinator for the McCook Economic Development Corporation.
For Milva, as a relative newcomer to Nebraska, as she began working with communities to enhance quality care, she was pleasantly surprised by the support and innovation.
McCook originally expected to create a childcare center; they ended up realizing that they love supporting their current in-home providers while also creating connections for centers.
Surprise, Surprise: Milva, Communities for Kids, and McCook Embrace the Unexpected
As an organization that fosters positive change through community engagement, we have faith in our communities’ ability to create quality childcare.
That said, as the U.S. faces a childcare crisis, we understand that creating these programs isn’t easy. Like all of us, even close-knit communities like McCook may need a little bit of external guidance from Communities for Kids experts.
Communities for Kids (C4K) is a Nebraska Children and Families Foundation Early Childhood initiative. C4K supports communities and public-private sectors in their plans to create quality early childhood programs for children ages 0-5.
One of C4K’s benefits is that they specialize in adapting to each community’s needs – surprises and all. As Milva and her team worked with C4K to investigate their early childhood dreams, they embraced the unexpected and even the challenges.
Milva, Andy, and their community had several realizations: first, they were amazed by McCook’s dedication to quality care. Second, the community decided that they didn’t want to create a new childcare center.
Milva said she continues to be pleasantly surprised by the agility of her team and McCook’s commitment.
“I’m realizing what a great community we are,” said Milva. “I moved here 13 months ago and got this position in December. We moved from Atlanta. I had no idea that a Nebraska community could offer all this! The funny thing is I’ve enjoyed living in a small-town community. Who knew?”
But the surprises didn’t end there.
As McCook began to dig deeper into their childcare needs and dreams, instead of building a new center, they realized how much they loved their current providers.
Thus, the challenge began – how could McCook create more quality care while supporting their existing providers?
Milva said that the biggest, most burning goal is for childcare providers to acknowledge their indispensable role.
“I find it amazing that most of these [providers] are women, and they don’t realize how strong they are and what they contribute,” said Milva. “I want to say, ‘You are a fountain of strength. You’re watching other people’s kids.’ I am sitting here and thinking, can we take a moment and say, ‘YOU are a business owner!’”
There’s No Place Like In-Home: McCook and Communities for Kids Support their Providers
While the community began to research the strengths and gaps in their childcare system, they examined how they could best support their providers while growing quality care.
“We reached out to the community and asked what do we need? We thought at first that the goal was a [childcare] center, but we like in-home [care]; we want to support them more!” said Milva.
In addition to supporting in-home providers, Milva said that her community also wants to grow connections, which include early care centers.
Milva said that she and her team connected two community members; one of them was a provider who owned a center and was planning to retire. The other one was an aspiring early care business owner.
“Now, the [latter] woman owns the [retiree’s] center! We filled in her gap for a loan with another loan so she could buy the building with some economic development funds!” said Milva.
“Our C4K work helped us to be a resource. We helped this person get an early childhood education business! Someone wanted to retire from her business; someone else didn’t have a childcare background but wanted to open a childcare business. We connected them,” she said.
Milva and Andy said that one of McCook’s biggest goals is to encourage providers to see the importance of their profession.
“Initially, [our goal] was to create enough capacity in the community so when people had a child, they could go back to work if they wanted. But what we’ve also done is help our providers see themselves as professional business owners that provide a service to the community,” said Milva.
“We need our providers to understand they are small business owners! They are not babysitters; that’s a mindset, and we’re here to support them.”
Meanwhile, Milva said the community continues to familiarize itself with providers’ needs.
“We want to know what’s out there to support them as they stabilize and maintain their businesses,” she said.
“I am an advocate to and for childcare providers and assisting them to be successful,” said Milva.
One of the community’s biggest challenges has been to convince providers that they serve a vital role and deserve the opportunity to earn wages that reflect their value as essential professionals.
“It horrifies me that they’re charging $2 per hour to take care of a child. You can’t even keep the electricity on for $2 an hour,” said Milva.
“We help them understand, yes, you take care of children, but you also support your business!”
Milva said that her community is working toward a common goal, no matter how they arrive.
“[Our] goal is taking care of children and making sure they get access to quality care,” said Milva.
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