BY CARMEN SIERING
New Hope for Families opened in July 2011, offering shelter and resources to families facing homelessness. Executive Director Elaine Guinn vividly remembers the child care program they had at the time. “There’s a picture of me with a baby on my lap,” Guinn says. “That was it. You can’t go to a job interview with your kids, so I would keep an eye on them. Those parents didn’t necessarily have anyone else, so it was easier to leave the children with us.”
New Hope has come a long way since then. In October, the New Hope Early Childhood Development Center opened, offering child care for children from birth through age five. Emily Pike, director of children’s programming, says the center, which currently can serve 10 children, fills a need for working parents. “We anticipated it would take four or five months to fill, but we were fully enrolled in 2 1/2 weeks,” she says. “Bloomington is really short on spaces for infants and toddlers for parents at any income level. There’s just a shortage.”
As the ability to care for more children grows, Pike says 75 percent of spaces will be reserved for families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. The other spots will be open to middle-income families, who will pay a market rate. Right now, Pike, preschool teacher Kate Gehringer, and volunteers are staffing the center. Another staff member will be hired soon to work exclusively with infants and toddlers.
The center is part of the Monroe Smart Start Birth-to-Five Coalition, a group that works to ensure that children who enter school are ready to succeed. “We all want to make sure kids’ social, emotional, and academic needs are met,” Pike says. “It’s hard to learn how to wait your turn or how to express your feelings with words if you haven’t had a lot of good role models in your life.”
With a need so great, there are already plans to expand. A new space is being prepared that will allow the center to care for 16 children. “We have plans to scale this up over four years so we can help 35 kids,” Pike says. “We’ve had three of our parents get jobs just in the time we’ve been open. It’s a real game changer for these families.”
For more information, to volunteer, or to donate, contact Pike at [email protected]