Church votes to close day care center

Almost three years after its opening, Hillsboro?s largest day care center, housed within Hillsboro Men?no?nite Brethren Church, will be closing.

Bob Loewen, moderator of the church, said the congregation approved a unanimous recommendation from the church council and the Kids Connection board of directors March 27 to dissolve the day care.

Loewen cited the difficulty of sharing space with the church?s regular children?s ministry as the main problem.

?I would give that the highest reason,? he said. ?It?s been a really tough time for us to run our own children?s programs in that same space.?

Loewen said the church offers Sunday school and Wednesday classes for children.

?It takes a lot of equipment and resources to run a day care,? he said, ?and some children are there for the full day. It?s an incredible amount of stuff that fills space in that area.?

The recommendation identified May 27 as the last day KC will be open, but that could change depending on factors related to staff and the families that use the facility.

The day care has four full-time employees, two part-time employees and one cook, Loewen said.

?If all of a sudden some leave (for another job), that will become a tough situation,? he said. ?The KC board can?t deprive employees from looking for other employment.?

Likewise, parents with children currently attending KC may find alternative day care.

The beginning and end

When the church started looking at constructing a new building following a 2004 fire, construction plans encompassed a holistic vision, he said.

Loewen said the reason for starting KC was because of the need for day care in the community.

?There was a passion within the hearts of a lot of people in our congregation to provide a service to our community and that service was day care.

?It took almost a year to pull that all together, but we were building a new facility and trying to figure what to include in construction,? he said. ?The idea of having a day care in those plans caused us to change some of the construction (design).?

In August 2008, Kids Connection opened its doors with the capability of providing day care up to 59 children from age 1 through elementary school.

The facility was approved and registered by the state as a private, not-for-profit corporation governed by five board members appointed by the church council.

?The board operates KC and the only link to the church was the board appointments,? he said.

?The board went in totally optimistic that KC would be a perfect fit,? he said, ?but time and experience taught us different.?

Saddened by the decision to close KC, Loewen said he believes if there had been a separate facility on the church grounds, closing the day care would not be happening.

?If there is a joint venture in the community, whether it comes out of economic development or a city-wide need or a citywide effort, (the church) would be excited to help in whatever way it could.?

Clint Seibel, executive director of the Hillsboro Development Corp. and a member of the church, said a lot of people are concerned about the recent news.

?I?m not sure anyone knows how much it will take to open another facility,? he said. ?The facility isn?t the real problem. It will take an organization willing to find the subsidy to keep a child-care center running over the long haul.?

A desire to serve families

KC represented the congregation?s desire to provide a service for families, especially those with economic needs, Loewen said.

?The Kids Connection board created and funded a scholarship program for those who, even with assistance, couldn?t pay,? he said.

What the board discovered, Loewen said, was that those in need made up a very small percentage of KC?s clientele.

?Most of the people didn?t have the need for assistance,? he said.

Loewen said it was never the church?s intent to create the day care for its own parishioners. It was intended as a permanent fixture, he said, complete with by-laws that specifically identified families with needs and regardless of family status.

?It was intended to meet community needs,? he said.

Those needs have not declined since KC?s inception, he said, but have increased.

?I don?t think that negates our desire (to help),? Loewen said. ?That is the tough part for the board of directors. Their recommendation to the church comes with tears because that is the part of day care they were so passionate about.?

Although the facility was approved for 59 children, there were times when families were on waiting lists. The average enrollment this year was 45 for day care and 13 pre-school students.

?KC was a little shy of full, but it has had as high as 25 to 26 pre-school students,? he said.

One reason for fewer pre-schoolers was USD 410?s decision to start its Head Start program, where children were able to go half-days, four days a week.

KC was also half-days, but only two days per week.

Decision to close

The board recommended to the HMBC council to close the day care, but the council discussed it over several sessions before affirming the recommendation.

The congregation approved the recommendation with 64 percent affirmation, he added.

Loewen said that because the announcement only came last week, the church hasn?t had a chance to discuss what might come next.

The KC board, church council and others agree that something needs to happen, and a day care facility is desperately needed in the community.

?I think it?s important just to communicate appreciation to the (KC) staff,? he said. ?It wasn?t possible without them.?

For Loewen and other church leaders, the effect on staff is one reason to regret making the decision to close.

?We have thrown everyone into a level of turmoil?parents, staff and children,? he said. ?The KC board is totally willing to work with whatever community entities to find solutions, as is the church council and the congregation.?

Possible solutions

The church council and the KC Board of Directors scheduled an informational meeting Monday to talk to parents with children at the facility about possible options.

Sue Baker, one of those parents, said she hoped the council and board would consider keeping the day care open beyond the May 27 closing date until a community-wide day care could replace KC.

?At this point, I have found nothing,? she said, regarding options for her children once KC closes.

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