Friday, February 02, 2001

Parents' godsend closes

Church-run day-care center encounters money troubles

By Patrick Stack
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — After providing low-cost day care to working parents for more than 36 years, the First Methodist Day Care Center closes today.

        Administrators said financial difficulties, caused by declining enrollment in the last several months, forced the board of directors to shut the nonprofit day-care center at an emergency meeting Jan. 16. Parents were notified in a letter dated Jan. 17 that the center's last day would be today.

        “I think it's been a location that's been truly appreciated,” said Barbara Hill of Florence, whose granddaughter, Zjaimara Simpson, 1, attended.

[photo] First Methodist Day Care teacher's assistant Tiffany Mann reads the Three Little Pigs to the 2-year-olds Thursday. Money troubles are forcing the center to close after 36 years in Covington.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Opened in 1964 to give working women a low-cost place to care for their children during the day, the center originally was staffed with volunteers from the church. Since then, it has switched to hired help, said the pastor, the Rev. Frank Horton.

        Mrs. Hill said she has started looking for a new day-care center, but many places have told her she may have to wait months to enroll her granddaughter.

        “I'm finding a real problem with infants and 1-year-olds,” she said. “Most places start at 2.”

        The center — which has about 20 children — gets all its money from parents' fees and co-payments from the state for low-income parents, director Monica Horton-Knuckles said. It receives no money from the United Way or other charitable agencies.

        The center charges about $20 per day for each child, but some parents pay between $2 and $7 per day, with the state paying the rest.

        Enrollment has dropped from about 50 in September, Ms. Horton-Knuckles said. With low enrollment, which board members say results in part from competing day-care centers and public preschools, income from tuition was enough to cover the general expenses such as salaries and bills, but not much else.

        “It makes me want to sit down and cry,” said Pam Anderson, member of the board of directors, whose 2-year-old grandson, Zachary, attended.

        “From being on the board, I see where things were pretty hopeless; and from being on the parent side, it made me want to do what I could to help.”

        Because of its limited income, the center couldn't afford to make major improvements and add amenities to compete with newer day-care centers. The center is on Fifth Avenue in part of First United Methodist Church, a building constructed in 1867 and rebuilt in 1947.

        “It's helped so many people over the years, and it could still do that, but we're just being crippled by the fact that the building is so old and there's maintenance we can't afford to do,” Ms. Horton-Knuckles said.

        Other day-care centers, such as Cathedral Child Development Center on Madison Avenue, part of the nonprofit Children Inc. centers with United Way funding, can offer parents more educational options.

        Cathedral serves about 115 children and offers both traditional and Montessori education for ages 2 through kindergarten. Rene Bricking, director of Cathedral, said about 10-15 children have switched to Cathedral since First Methodist announced its closing.

        Cathedral also is looking to hire some staff members from First Methodist, Mrs. Bricking said.

        First Methodist wanted to add day-care amenities such as Montessori and kindergarten, but had to dedicate money to staffing and physical maintenance, Ms. Horton-Knuckles said.

        “We would love to do it if we could afford it,” she said.

        Despite the older facilities, em ployees at the day-care center said the staff functioned like a family, one that often saw former day-care center graduates bring their own children back later.

        “A lot of people related to each other work here, and a lot of times parents have grown up here and brought their kids,” day-care worker Rebecca McMichael said.

        While the day-care center will close today, Ms. Anderson said the board will continue to meet through the end of the year to look into reopening or changing the center's focus.

        Ms. Horton-Knuckles said the center would look into focusing on infants and very young children. Many child-care centers do not take infants, and the center could fill a need for parents in this respect, she said.

        “There's nothing we can do to stop the closing now, but we're hoping to maybe change the focus and reopen to serve the community in some way,” Ms. Anderson said.

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