By Nicholette Carlson
WARSAW — Quality, affordable child care is a growing need in Kosciusko County as well as the surrounding areas. As one of the Kosciusko County Community Foundation’s priority concerns, a Lilly Endowment large-scale grant was applied for and received in the amount of $1.7 million to be applied toward child care throughout Kosciusko County through December 2025.
Helping to provide more options for quality child care is important in both supporting the families living in Kosciusko County and attracting more families to move to the county. According to Stephanie Overbey, Kosciusko County Community Foundation CEO, affordable child care is integral in allowing parents who want to join the workforce to be able to do so. With this child care grant, the foundation will be able to accelerate its assistance in providing child care.
Of the $1.7 million, there is $400,000 earmarked to start two new child care programs. Overbey stated they are hoping to find nonprofit organizations, such as schools or churches, who are willing to serve as benevolent landlords. This means the nonprofit would provide the building and space, the foundation would provide funding for the program and parents would simply pay the cost for salaries and supplies, greatly reducing the cost of child care.
Part of the money, a total of $500,000, will be used toward child care scholarships. The foundation has teamed up with Brightpoint to help parents living in Kosciusko County apply for a Leap scholarship to assist in paying for quality child care. Parents can apply online for a scholarship at mybrightpoint.org/index.php/get-help/family-self-sufficiency/leap-pad-child-care-scholarship.
Another $500,000 will be used as a scholarship endowment. This way, once the original scholarship money runs out, parents will be able to continue to receive child care scholarships through the endowment fund. As Overbey explained, “Income from that investment can pay for future scholarships.”
A little more than $300,000 will then go toward existing programs to assist children with special needs. This includes before and after school programs as well as holiday and summer child care for children and adults with special needs. Money from this fund “will accelerate and expand what they’re trying to do and who they’re able to serve,” stated Overbey.
One of the programs receiving assistance is the SOAR program at the Kosciusko County YMCA. SOAR integrates kids in kindergarten through age 22 into their summer child care programming. There are also opportunities for school-age children in SOAR to receive before and/or after school care at their school through the program. Children in SOAR are also included in programming from e-learning days and holiday breaks.
While the YMCA had already made leaps and bounds to be accommodating to special needs individuals, assistance from this child care grant will help SOAR to get more staffing as well as discover other ways to help them better accommodate these individuals. When it comes to those in the SOAR program, additional counselors are needed, particularly ones with previous knowledge or experience, to assist in caring for the participants as well as help someone step away when they need a break. In fact, the YMCA has a sensory room for such a purposes.
Rachel Hardy, YMCA child care director, finds this all-inclusive atmosphere extremely rewarding as she watches all of the kids interact. She has also heard from special needs parents how much they appreciate the opportunity for their children to be able to do things just like all the other kids.
A mother of one of the children in the SOAR program, Elizabeth Haussman, said, “Having a program like the SOAR Program in Warsaw has made a huge difference for our family. Our daughter, Addy, requires additional care due to her disabilities. We thought the only option for her care over the summer was to have a private in-home caregiver, which is great, but doesn’t necessarily offer many opportunities for engagement with other children her age. Inclusion is one of the most important things to our family and we were thrilled when we found out about the SOAR program at the YMCA.
“It truly is an inclusive program that has provided Addy with the specialized care she needs, while also giving her the opportunity to meet new friends and participate in activities like swimming, going to the movies, visiting the park and more. Addy has been excited to go to camp every day this summer and has made many new friends. The staff has been phenomenal with her — better than I could have ever expected. Rachel Hardy and her team have put together a remarkable program in our community that benefits children like Addy, but is also introducing more children in our community to individuals with disabilities, promoting inclusion in the best way.”
Another mother, Sheila Pippenger, added, “SOAR camp has been a blessing for our family for the past three years. Megan loves coming to camp every day and enjoys all of the activities. It keeps her moving and engaged with others and the community.”