LEXINGTON — A year ago the Lexington Clipper-Herald published an article detailing the lack of child care availability in Lexington.
Soon after, community discussions began asking how the shortage could be tackled and City of Lexington considered several different child care center permits in late 2019. This article examines the state of child care one year later.
In June 2019, the Clipper-Herald reported the maximum capacity of the 18 daycares in Lexington was 211. This was contrasted against 2010 census data which indicated there were 993 children under the age of five living in the community.
The difference shows a gap of over 700 children, who wouldn’t have access to child care if it was required.
Boone County Communities for Kids coordinator Lindsey Jarecki said during a Lexington child care meeting in February 2020, a group of volunteers began meeting after they learned there was a child care gap of 80 across the whole county.
Lexington, a community of over 10,000, in 2019 had no child care centers while smaller communities like Cozad and Gothenburg both have centers.
The same month the child care article was published, a group of citizens from all over Dawson County met, in what would become a series of monthly meetings which are still ongoing, to discuss the child care needs in Lexington.
A core of volunteers has continued to meet and gather data about the specific child care needs of the Lexington community in order to address them.
Since meeting in June the Lexington C4K group has gained some momentum, said Shonna Werth Assistant Vice President, Early Childhood Programs with Nebraska Children and Families Foundation who had been helping lead the meetings.
“A community survey for parents, community at large, and employers was developed and began to be distributed in November of 2019. This survey is still open as the group had decided the data gathered was not adequate to represent the entire community of Lexington,” Werth said, “It was decided that once a fiscal agent was established and a coordinator could be hired, we would begin looking at implementing the survey again to obtain needed data to guide decisions regarding the work around building capacity and quality early care opportunities.”
A Community for Kids coordinator was hired in April 2020. Alyson Young. Alyson was contracted to manage the C4K work that needed to be done in order to support the action steps that were needed to be done within the work plan, said Werth.
Due to the COVID - 19 pandemic, Alyson's first task was to do outreach to area providers and find out what their needs were. With a $1000 grant and $1000 from the C4K funds, Alyson was able to purchase local Chamber Bucks ($50.00 apiece) and distribute them to the Cozad, Lexington, Overton, and Sumner child care providers as an appreciation for National Child Care Provider Appreciation Day on May 8th.
The first entity to formally apply for a permit for a child care center in Lexington was the First United Methodist Church, working in conjunction with Learning Adventures Child Care Center, based in Gothenburg.
The center, located in the basement of the FUMC, opened Monday, June 8. The center will start caring for 24 children, with every available space already spoken for, said Learning Adventures owner Casey Madsen.
In December, 2019, Barbara Reeser sought a permit for a child care center in the former Love In Action building. Reeser said during a planning commission meeting last year she would be taking on 12 children initially.
Reeser couldn’t be contacted for comment about progress which has been made, but the location has not yet been formally licensed by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, according to their roster.
Earlier this year, Precious Angel Daycare, located in Broken Bow, approached the Lexington city council about opening a center at a home on north Harrison St.
Sara Arnold, who would have directed the center, said the location they were interested in was sold. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought any expansion progress to a standstill but the business is still interested in opening a center in Lexington.
The Orthman Community YMCA had been discussing the possibility of getting involved in child care during initial meetings, but at the moment, CEO Riley Gruntorad said they are not ready for this yet. The YMCA has not fully closed the door to the possibility yet, he added.
According to the DHHS roster of licensed child care and preschool programs in Nebraska, Lexington is currently being served by 14 daycares, two preschools and one child care center.
The maximum capacity of all these is 270.