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Superior awards grants to 16 child care providers

Funded with federal COVID-19 relief dollars, the grants can be used for a variety of things, including classroom materials, staff training and safety improvements.

Asher Nelson, 1, right, smiles as Kaylie Lamoreaux paints his hand
Asher Nelson, 1, right, smiles as Kaylie Lamoreaux paints his hand as they work on an art project at Shell’s Daycare in Superior on Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022. The day care center received a $7,000 grant from the city.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Sixteen of the 19 child care centers in the city have applied for grants aimed at providing relief to day care providers, with a total disbursement of $127,000.

Officials in February approved funneling $200,000 of federal American Rescue Plan Act money into the grant program.

A sampling of recipients revealed that the grants will provide an influx of new toys, safety upgrades and playground equipment.

Ten-month-old Brinley Forsberg, right, laughs with Michelle Davis
Ten-month-old Brinley Forsberg, right, laughs with Michelle Davis, owner of Shell’s Daycare, in Superior on Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022. Davis said she hasn't decided how to spend all of the grant money yet, but she will use some of the funds to increase staff pay and cover their continuing education classes.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

At Shell’s Daycare on Tower Avenue, owner Michelle Davis was still deciding what to use the center’s $7,000 grant for.

“I know some of the funds are going to help increase my wages for my staff,” she said, as well as to offset the costs of their continuing education classes.

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Davis said she usually tries to help pay for classes and CPR training for staff, because their base pay is low. The grant will help boost that. What’s left will go to the physical space—a swingset and updated toys, particularly outside.

The center, which employs 12 and cares for 50 children, is full and has had to turn parents away. Davis said she would love to expand. She called the grant program, which comes at a time when costs are rising for basics like food and gas, “amazing.”

“I think you would see more child care centers closing if they didn’t have this opportunity,” Davis said.

New Horizons Children’s Center of Superior owner Cindy Fennessey said the $7,000 grant the business received will be used for safety upgrades, including replacing mats in the outdoor playground. It will, she said, provide “safety and a better peace of mind for parents.”

Megan Moore holds up flashcards to children in the three year old room at Shell’s Daycare
Megan Moore holds up flashcards to children in the three year old room at Shell’s Daycare in Superior on Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

A swingset and toys are on the list of items slated for purchase at Cindy Campbell’s Day Care on Lamborn Avenue. Campbell’s husband, Cameron, said a portion of the $10,000 they received will be used to provide discounted child care to two families who are struggling financially and have more than one child enrolled. They were also able to hold child care spots open for one mother who will be returning to work in September.

He was glad for the boost from the city.

“Because then also, too, I can get paid. You know what I mean? Instead of always working for free,” said Campbell, who lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheena Halvorson, co-owner of Little Rascals Child Care on North 22nd Street, said the $6,000 the center received will be spent on new toys, furniture, outdoor toys and bills to keep the center going.

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“I thought it was wonderful. It was definitely much needed,” Halvorson said.

Happy Hearts Day Care, which received $9,000, used grant funding for new toys, both inside and out, according to owner Andrea Racznik.

In addition to new equipment, Mickey Mouse Playhouse owner Jillene Johnson said she planned to use part of her $10,000 grant to replace fencing and outdoor decking, as well as old doors and shelves.

Johnson initially didn’t think her home-based center qualified for a grant.

“I understood that it was for, you know, bigger day cares,” she said. “But I must have read it wrong.”

When the city sent out letters explaining the program in more detail, she applied. Two days later, the application was approved.

One-year-old Camden Holm looks at his hand print
One-year-old Camden Holm looks at his hand print as his group does an art project Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022, at Shell’s Daycare in Superior.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“These grants are good right now. You know, it helps you out, extra money,” said Johnson, who has been in the child care field for 26 years. “But at the end of the year, you have to claim that for income.”

The two Family Forum Inc. Head Start centers in Superior also qualified for grant funding, although the nonprofit was still evaluating how the dollars will be used.

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Centers that receive grants have until 2024 to spend the money, and must submit information on what they spent the dollars on to the city’s planning and development department. Eligible expenses include costs that go toward new or expanded service, increasing access to service and efforts to bolster, support or preserve existing services.

With $73,000 remaining in the fund, the program is about to switch focus from retention to creation.

“We knew not every provider would qualify for the max amount of $10,000, we deliberately prioritized existing providers and expected there to be money left over once everyone applied,” said Jenny Van Sickle, the city councilor who spearheaded the effort to support child care in the city with ARPA funds.

“In the coming months we will shift the money’s directive to support prospective providers with licensing, equipment and materials costs, staff recruitment and hiring bonuses," Van Sickle said. "We know the available state money to start a child care center hasn’t budged in years, so we want to be able to to help, or potentially match those funds as well.”

The four year old room works on sign language
The four year old room works on sign language Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022, at Shell’s Daycare in Superior.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.