Jen Smallwood, director of operations for Monroe County United Ministries. Photo by Naama Levy


When Monroe County United Ministries (MCUM) Director of Operations Jen Smallwood enters a 2-year-old classroom, a toddler rushes up to her with a big smile and hugs her leg. “He’s a friendly one,” she says.

Smallwood is visiting one of two MCUM Compass Early Learning Centers that offer affordable child care options. This facility, known as Compass-Downtown, is located within First United Methodist Church at 219 E. 4th St. When it opened in August, it introduced a new MCUM option—care for infants.

“For a lot of families with babies, it was a huge relief to find a place they can afford,” Smallwood says. “There is such a demand for child care for kids 2 and under.” Compass-Downtown serves 96 children, infants to preschool age. Its sister-site, Compass-North, 827 W. 14th Court, offers care for 84 children from age 1 to kindergarten.

Both locations offer full-time care from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with two hot meals from the USDA food program and two snacks per day. Tuition is on a sliding-fee scale. The average price at Compass-North is $60 per week; it’s $100 at Compass-Downtown. “Our priority is low-income families, but we are open to any family within Monroe County,” Smallwood says.

MCUM has a history that stretches back to 1939 when the Bloomington Council of Church Women (now called Church Women United) found that one of the community’s greatest needs was child care for low-income families. As a result, the Bloomington Day Nursery opened in 1940. Locations and buildings have changed, but the goal remains the same: to create solutions to economic, educational, and social injustice in the community.

“The mission is to help families find economic stability, breaking cycles of poverty,” Smallwood says. “Providing affordable child care is a part of that.”

In order to make child care affordable, MCUM relies on money from fundraisers, grants, service organizations, area congregations, and the United Way of Monroe County. Proceeds from Opportunity House also support MCUM services.

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