ST. GEORGE — A 24-hour day care facility soon will open in downtown and is designed to help “bridge the gap” for impoverished families who must choose between work or looking after their children.
“How many people do you know have to work past 6 o’clock at night?” Carol Hollowell, the executive director of the nonprofit Switchpoint Community Resource Center, asked the crowd gathered for the ribbon cutting of the new Stepping Stones day care center. “Anybody that feeds you at the restaurant, anybody in a hotel. How about the weekends? At the golf course? Who’s watching those kids?”
Affordable childcare was ranked among the top three biggest gaps in Washington County keeping people in poverty, Hollowell said. It was followed by affordable housing and transportation.
“We’ve got to create something that can alleviate keeping families trapped in poverty,” she said, noting that discussions related to the need for a 24-hour day care facility in Southern Utah had begun in 2017.
Parents and guardians of young children would either be forced to choose whether to take a needed job or stay and care for the children because they could not find affordable child care, let alone service catering to odd hours.
Additionally, Hollowell said she had seen examples at the shelter Switchpoint manages of children as young as 8 or 10 being made the primary caretaker for their younger siblings while their parents are at work.
“Can we change the direction? Can we change the cycle of poverty with the kids we start seeing at Stepping Stones?” Hollowell said. “That’s my belief. I think we have a chance at breaking the cycle of poverty in Washington County.”
Lorelei Martins, who attended the ribbon-cutting event as a part of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, said she is looking forward to the opening of Stepping Stones as a place she may be able to place her 4-year-old son Hayden – who just happened to be with her at the event.
Finding childcare is “a current problem, I think, in the entire city of St. George. It’s the reason why he (Hayden) is with me now,” Martins said as her son played with plastic toy animals nearby in one of the center’s classrooms. “I’m having to take him to every business meeting almost because it’s so hard to find good, reliable and open childhood.”
The daycare center will offer various programs across five classrooms that will cater to children 6 weeks-12 years old. On a perfect day, Hollowell said, they expect to see up to 270 children.
The center will charge daily and monthly rates based on the market at-large, with child care for a 2-year-old starting at $850 a month and decreasing with the age until the child reaches 6 years old when the rate drops to $650 per month. However, families who qualify will be able to use subsidies provided through the Utah Department of Workforce Services to counter the cost.
Kamie Blake, director of childcare at Stepping Stones, said that while the day care center’s tuition costs need to be affordable, the center also still needs to make a profit in order to run its programs. The rates Stepping Stones settled on compare with the market rate for day care services outlined in a 2021 market survey done for Workforce Services.
Day care center employees, both full and part time, also will be paid above-average wages for their positions, Blake added.
When it was her turn to address the crowd, Blake became somewhat emotional as she spoke about Stepping Stones’ mission. She also shared how she had seen the best and the worst in child care during her 14 years in the field, and how those who had been chosen to work at Stepping Stones would be among the best and have a genuine love and concern for children.
“I’m so proud of the team we have bought on. We’re not just babysitters – we are early childhood educators,” she said. “Our teachers will receive regular ongoing professional development to understand best practices in childhood development and working and interacting with children. Those relationships will be there. Those children will know they are loved. And those parents will know this is a safe, healthy place for their children to be.”
Stepping Stones is the only 24-hour day care center in Southern Utah and among the few in the state that offers those hours
The day care center originally broke ground in October 2020 with a $3 million price tag. That eventually ballooned to $4.5 million due to material shortages and supply chain issues brought on the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to make up for the increased project costs, Hollowell said they went after private donations and grants. Along the way, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made a donation to the Stepping Stones project as a part of an overall $3.3 million donation to nonprofits focused on fighting homelessness.
“This has truly been a labor of love,” Hollowell said.
Stepping Stones is the latest in a growing list of ventures Switchpoint has undertaken to help combat homelessness and poverty in the region. Other ventures include the renovation of a local motel into affordable housing units, the building of an apartment complex and operating a substance abuse facility in Hildale.
It also operates various businesses – two thrift stores, a pet boarding and grooming service and a small-engine repair shop – that help fund the nonprofit’s operations.
Switchpoint also has expanded its services to Tooele County in recent years and continues to do so.
Additional information and enrollment details for Stepping Stones can be found by clicking here.
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