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Day care dilemma

June 15, 2014

IMAGE/EASTERDAY CONSTRUCTION

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VARIOUS OPTIONS CONSIDERED IN WAKE OF ST MARY'S CLOSING
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Its unique makeup gives the Culver's community plenty to celebrate, but at times offers a few challenges, with quality and abundent child care among them. That's particularly true given not only the seasonal nature of the community, but certainly as regards the children of the faculty and staff of Culver Academies, the largest employer in Marshall County.

St. Mary of the Lake's childcare ministry (popularly known as its daycare) entered the equation around six years ago and certainly helped fill the void for Academies parents, whose children made up the lion's share of the daycare program. As of the end of this school year, however, St. Mary's childcare program closed its doors due to a handful of factors according to St. Mary's office administrator Jannie Zehner.

"Our biggest issues are consistently maintenance and upkeep," she explains, adding that the College Avenue house the church purchased which became home to the childcare ministry needs plenty of maintenance, in addition to the issue of its pipes freezing this past winter.

"Thankfully the Academy stepped in and offered a home (to use temporarily), but it was out of town, so several people didn't bring their children."

She notes there's also a perpetual limit to children the ministry could accept due to the square footage of its building and property.

It's no secret -- for anyone who's driven by in recent months and even years -- that both the daycare building and St. Mary's church office building (at the northwest corner of Lewis and Plymouth Streets) have roofs in need of attention, something for which fund raising options are being considered, according to Zehner.

From the angle of the church as a whole, she adds, the question arose as to how the church's mission was truly being fulfilled by the program.

"It was called a ministry, but it wasn't doing what typically a ministry would do," she says.

Zehner emphasizes that the decision was in no way personal, and she's in favor of child care ministry director Sheryl Tompos -- and the entire staff -- moving en masse to Wesley United Methodist Church, which is considering opening its own daycare. St. Mary's would donate items related to the ministry's operation in that event, Zehner adds.

A WESLEY CHURCH DAYCARE?

Wesley Church, meanwhile, is considering its options.
The church, which held a Church Council meeting on the daycare matter last Wednesday, has run a successful preschool program for nearly 50 years in Culver.

Wesley Pastor Jacob Juncker says the church is "exploring the possibility of taking on the daycare," and an advisory board was appointed at last week's meeting and will report back to the Council June 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the church's fellowship hall downstairs. He notes that "all community members concerned about the future of daycare in Culver are welcome to witness and participate in the conversation being had...community input is important as the church discerns how it can help (or not) meet this need in our community."

MAX'S PLAYHOUSE EXPANDING

Of course, there's another daycare in Culver. Max's Playhouse on State Road 10 is moving forward with renovations -- to be complete by August -- to add a separate infant room. Max's mixed age group room will become toddlers only, and renovation will add six spaces to the program, according to owner and director Brandy Pohl.

"Max's Playhouse has seen the largest demand for care of infants and toddlers," she explains. "Currently we are on a wait list for these ages," a situation which drove the renovation need.

Pohl points out the closing of St. Mary's program is actually one of a host of recent changes in early childhood in Culver. Others include Wesley Preschool staff transitions and transportation being cut from the local Headstart program.

"It's been hard having so many changes all at once for the parents of young children," says Pohl. "This isn't just happening in our community but everywhere. Programs are reevaluating their curriculum and childcare facilities are under the scope."

She adds her "heart hurts" for the parents of children who attended St. Mary's and that she hopes the staff of St. Mary's "will continue to be a piece in the early childhood world in Culver in some other capacity."

Max's currently has openings in its preschool aged room (3 to 6 year olds) and plans to transport from Wesley Preschool and Headstart next year, says Pohl, who adds Max's accepts CCDF vouchers. Pohl may be reached at 574-635-0103 or brandy@maxsplayhouse.net.

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