JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Don’t call it baby-sitting. Educators at the Riverhouse Children’s Center, a pre-kindergarten child care center, do much more than baby-sit the 52 children who come through their doors daily.
“We are setting them up through the first couple of years to be successful for the rest of their lives,” said Jessica Obleton, vice president of the Riverhouse board of executives.
Now, the center will receive help in its task as it prepares to finish construction of a new building off Florida Road, a 6,400-square-foot facility designed for the needs of the children who play and learn at Riverhouse.
“I would consider it state-of-the-art in terms of what there is currently available in Durango, in terms of nonprofit child care centers and educational facilities,” Kim Barker, president of the board of directors, said of the new building, which will be completed in May.
As with the current building, each room is equipped with “centers” focusing on a separate area of learning. Through stations ranging in focus from sensory to writing and math, children are inundated with activities designed to aid different areas of development.
Additionally, the whole building will be made accessible to Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and that includes three playgrounds.
There are changes parents and care providers can look forward to as well, such as private rooms provided for parent meetings, child assessment and educational therapy.
The new Riverhouse also will offer an additional eight spaces in its infant room, bringing the count of children in daily care to 60.
However, these changes do not come cheaply.
The total budget for the new building, according to the most recent estimates, is $2.2 million, with a fundraising campaign goal of $1 million. To date, the project has received a total of $715,000 from community donors.
Owners of Riverhouse say the cause is worth the cost.
“One of the main reasons we started this project is to ensure the longevity of RCC as a nonprofit in the community for years to come,” said Jessica Obleton, vice president of the board of directors. “As owners we are put in a better position not only from a financial standpoint but in the standpoint of our community – the community can know that we are here for the long term,”
Through its capital campaign, the board has raised money from both private families and local companies.
These efforts, coupled with a federal loan of $1.2 million provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in June, have brought Riverhouse within $3000,000 of its goal.
However, Brenna Abeyta-Watson, executive director of the project, says Riverhouse wants to continue to raise funds to better ensure its ability to provide service to children and families with fewer debt constraints.
Through raising additional funds, Riverhouse hopes to help families who struggle to pay the $35 to $42 a day. However, this price tag is not unusual said Shannon Bassett, Southwest Colorado child care resource and referral coordinator.
She said the average cost for child care in Durango is $35 a day for ages zero to two, and $29 a day for ages three to five.
Martha McClellan, childhood resource and referral coordinator for the five county region and a lifelong early-childhood educator, says the problem of affordable care leads to insurmountable obstacles for many families. Many families cannot afford child care, and a parent must stay at home to support the children, and, eventually, many people are forced to go on welfare.
Through additional fundraising, Riverhouse hopes to acquire enough funds to admit more children supported through The Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP. CCAP helps qualifying low-income families afford child care by paying for their children’s enrollment.
However, McClellan says the program pays only a portion of the price child care centers charge per child. Because of this, centers often limit the number of CCAP children they can accept to avoid losing money.
“It’s a vicious cycle. We want to serve these children, but it’s really hard,” she said.
This problem is no different at Riverhouse. Abeyta-Watson said Riverhouse receives $27 a day per CCAP child enrolled at the center, which means each CCAP child admitted costs the center an additional $3,000 a year.
Even those families able to pay are far from guaranteed a place for their children.
With 30 centers and 16 licensed home-care programs, there are only enough child-care spots in Durango for about 1,283 children. According to Basset, there are 2,500 children younger than five in La Plata County, 1,675 of whom have both parents in the workforce.
McClellen said added capacity at Riverhouse is fantastic, but, ultimately, the additional eight spots offered by the new facility is “barely a dent” in addressing the hundreds of children without available care.
McClellen said the community involvement offered by Riverhouse, however, is a model for future child care facilities.
“If we want to be a community that attracts people, we have to be able to provide the services that they would see in a larger town or a larger city.”
She says the effect of the community coming together to help provide child care has already been seen through the success of the Riverhouse.
“With community standing behind this, we have insured a quality place for children for years to come,” she said.