Grant boosts childcare options in O’Neill

Today’s community economic development question is no longer one of jobs. As evidenced by 2021’s mass remote work migration, today’s office can be wherever you need—or want—it to be. For many young Nebraska families, any potential hometown must have access to early childhood education. Communities like O’Neill understand the need for those childcare options, which is why O’Neill Community Foundation Fund recently donated $20,000 to the Little Disciples Child Development Center.

The grant will be a boon for Little Disciples as it opens a secondary location in the community in a former Avera VA clinic—which the hospital generously offered in support of the childcare center’s mission. The OCFF grant will go toward purchasing and installing a fenced-in outdoor play area —a requirement for a license from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and a necessity for curious and developing young minds. When the project is complete, Little Disciples capacity will be able to support 40 additional children.

“The O’Neill Community Foundation Fund fully funded this grant request due to the high need of childcare services in the area,” the Fund Advisory Committee said in grant announcement. “When young families consider their options for raising a family, the availability of high-quality child-care options ranks high on their lists. Increasing capacity for the community by up to 40 children is vital to the economic health of O’Neill.”

O’Neill Public Schools Superintendent Amy Shane said the grant was critical to making the center’s expansion possible and boosting childcare options in O’Neill.

“Creating these areas is very expensive, and the expansion budget was not sufficient to cover those costs,” Shane said. “Without this grant, the volunteer board would have had to do a great deal of fundraising, which could have set the timeline for opening back substantially. This grant was vital to our continued progress on the center.”

Research shows early childhood education is influential in both individual and community wellbeing. Programs can determine lifelong success, with high-quality curriculum correlating with higher graduation rates and a reduced need for grade repetition. Quality early childcare plays a role in building stronger communities by reducing crime, child abuse and neglect, as well as fostering economic growth through higher earnings potential, health care cost reduction, and more. Childcare gaps can have ramifications beyond an individual child’s development. Inadequate availability costs Nebraska families $489 million in household income from missed work and reduced hours, according to First Five Nebraska.

“The challenges of finding adequate numbers of high-quality early childhood care openings have been a chronic issue for many years,” Shane said. “This has caused problems for employers trying to recruit and retain employees as well as those families trying to maintain consistent employment to support their family.”

A community survey in spring 2021 further cemented the need for additional childcare capacity options in O’Neill. Many parents said not knowing whether they could find childcare created significant stress in their lives.

“I began making phone calls to daycares when I was three months pregnant, because I knew the wait list was so long,” said one mother. “I didn’t get a full-time spot in daycare until my son was one year old. So, the waiting list was literally over a year and a half to get a full-time spot. It was one of the most stressful parts of my pregnancy, trying to figure out childcare for when I returned to work.”

Fortunately, the community understood the need, and multiple organizations pitched in to help Little Disciples grow to meet the needs of O’Neill. Not only did that help make the expansion possible, it also bolstered O’Neill’s reputation as a community that eagerly and effectively takes care of its own.

“I was so very grateful and excited for the assistance,” said Little Disciples board member Valerie Wecker. “The fact that our efforts for community benefit were shared by other organizations lifted some of the burden from the board’s shoulders.”

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