With the Nevada School District approving late-start Mondays every week for the next school year, one retired Nevada teacher is worried about how families with young children will find child care, especially if the program she’s worked with the past two-and-a-half years has to be discontinued.
Doxie Weber, a retired Nevada second-grade teacher, is director of Kids at First, a program that offers free child care at First United Methodist Church on late-start Mondays. The program depends on the help of community volunteers, but with dwindling numbers of volunteers this year, Weber said the program’s future is in question.
"Counting 10 minimum as a ‘staff,’ I really believe we need two complete staffs, plus more to sub as needed (to continue the program and cover every late-start Monday next year). I think if we had about 30-35 committed volunteers, we could easily operate next year," Weber said.
In the present year, Weber has had a couple of days when it was difficult to find enough people to volunteer and run the program. Some of her volunteers – many of whom are retired like herself - go south for the winter; some have had other conflicts, and with only 22 volunteers on her list, it is hard to get the 10 to 12 people she needs on some of the late-start Mondays.
"I could still use a few more (volunteers) this year," Weber said, and she thanks the high school’s Key Club for providing high school students on occasion to help with the program.
To offer the best care for the kids who come – usually between 30 to 40, on any given Monday, of the 62 who are registered to come – Weber said she needs the following: One person stationed inside the front door to check kids in, answer questions and sometimes to take new registrations on-site; a minimum of four to six people to be in each of the three classrooms that are used for the child care program and at least four or five people to work in the kitchen, preparing breakfast and serving food. Breakfast is another component of the program – all kids who want to eat are served breakfast.
Weber likes to have enough volunteers so that she can spend her time rotating between the rooms that are utilized, helping out with anything that’s needed, which may include answering questions or refilling supplies in the kitchen or craft room.
Weber said Kids at First was the "brainchild" of Brenda Hobson, who used to work at the Methodist Church overseeing educational programming, among other duties. "She contacted me, since I am the education committee chairperson," Weber said. Hobson bounced her idea for a child-care program off of Weber, and Weber became interested in making that idea a reality. As a retired elementary teacher, she said, "I didn’t want kids to be left at home alone if child care was not available, and I didn’t want parents to worry about leaving their children alone, having to get themselves on the bus or having to walk to school."
Unfortunately, the reality that some families face is difficult when it comes to paying and/or finding child care when their children aren’t in school. The Nevada Community Resource Center is a wonderful place for kids in Nevada, Weber said, "but they can’t take all the kids in town."
Weber said, as they contemplated starting Kids at First, she met with Chris Burling, director of the NCRC, to make sure this program wouldn’t overstep or cut into their program. Burling assured her that there was plenty of need for another program. "She was glad to have another place to send families who couldn’t use the Resource Center," Weber said, also noting that Nevada has some great home-based child-care providers, but if they are registered, the number of kids they can accept is limited. "And a private home does not have the space to take large numbers of kids, so a church works very well."
Kids who come to the Methodist Church on late-start Mondays find a safe, fun place, where they can enjoy playing games, have a healthy meal or snack, do craft/art projects and visit before being escorted to school.
The games, craft supplies and other materials used by Kids at First have been donated or purchased specially for the program, some through grant funds. Weber said she also brought in things from her former second-grade room that she had purchased herself when she was teaching.
"We do not use any of the church materials other than the tables, chairs and some of the (Sunday School) classroom teachers have rugs on the floor, so we take advantage of those," she said.
Grant money has also helped Weber purchase things for breakfast, which like the child care, is offered free. "We always provide a hot breakfast item like scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage, English muffin pizzas, waffles or pancakes, and we always have toast, peanut butter, cold cereal, fruit, milk and juice, and sometimes we make banana bread ahead of time. That is a favorite," she said.
Kids at First is offered to any child in the district, kindergarten on up. This year, 34 families are registered to use the program and attendance has been higher than in the previous two years. But the concern about needing more volunteers to keep the program going is very real.
"My hope is that people will read this and realize (that as volunteers) they can start their day once or twice a month by making a difference," said Weber. "Come spend a couple hours with these kids and the rest of your day will be all smiles."
For more information about Kids at First or how you can become a volunteer, you may call the Methodist Church at 382-6536, or if you’d like to become a volunteer, you may call Weber at 382-6212. "You could get hooked on playing (with kids) and be helping, too," Weber said. "I really want this program to keep going, because these kids and parents need us."