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Project set to help local childcare

FAIRMONT — A local organization, the Schmeeckle Foundation, is putting $250,000 toward increasing the availability of early child care in Martin County. The goal of The Prosper Project is to both recruit new child care providers and sustain existing providers.

The Schmeeckle Foundation carries on the legacy of long-time Martin County resident Juanita Schmeeckle. Its mission is the betterment of Martin County and its trustees continue to make significant investments in the community. Three main areas of focus for the foundation are early child care and education, assisting the disabled and elderly, and the arts.

The Excelsior Bay Group, a business management consultant, is the facilitator of The Prosper Project.

“One of the areas that the foundation noticed was a need in the community was early child care and the shortage of child care in the county,” said Eric Snyder of Excelsior Bay Group.

About two years ago, a study was done in Martin County that identified a need for an additional 170 child care slots.

Wade Abed, a trustee of The Schmeeckle Foundation, spoke about that initial meeting and said that like other organizations, The Schmeeckle Foundation received a copy of the report after the meeting. Once they had the numbers, Abed said they saw the problem and wanted to help form a program.

The foundation then commissioned a group of local child care experts from Families First of Minnesota, which is based in Mankato. They also included some experts from Women Venture and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

“Over the course of this past summer they came up with a tailor-made program to help preserve the providers that already operate in Martin County but also recruit and add some new providers to the mix to start chipping away at that need for 170 more slots,” Snyder said.

On Jan. 7, there will be two sessions. The first one is geared toward people who are new to the field and may be thinking of opening a child care business. The other session is for people who are already licensed providers in Martin County but may also be interested in participating.

The session will be done virtually and there are no limits as to how many people can attend.

The first meeting is to provide more information to interested people. Then an application period will be opened for interested people to submit materials. In late January 7-10 individuals will be accepted and then the first-class cohorts will start in late February.

Abed brought up the fact that there is an economic issue at play as well.

“It’s not just about lack of early child care, but it’s also folks being able to get to work. It hurts the business community and really every corner of the county,” Abed said.

Snyder said The Prosper Project provides the opportunity to help some people get back to work. It also gives people who are staying home with their own children the opportunity to turn it into a small business and help other families by taking care of their children.

“We’re kind of solving a couple of problems at the same time,” Snyder said.

Snyder pointed out that the focus is on home-based child care, which doesn’t require a lot of start-up capital for most people. It also provides local child care.

“Building one big center in Fairmont is great if you live and work in Fairmont, but if you live and work in other areas of the county, having one location might not be helpful. Focusing on home-based care allows us to provide not just more capacity, but more capacity across the whole county,” Snyder said.

The Prosper Project has been advertised in local newspapers, as well as on social media. Snyder said they’ve found that word of mouth works really well. He said even if people aren’t interested themselves, if they have a friend or neighbor who would be a good fit, they could refer them through the website.

Abed spoke about the investment the Schmeeckle Foundation is making.

“We have dedicated money toward the program and the reason we wanted to do that was to remove that barrier so that if folks wanted to do this, the money part won’t get in the way. Each provider has the opportunity to get all levels of help and support from a business side, technology side, and child care site side,” Abed said.

He said that having support is important so that they know they’re not alone. He pointed out that child care providers, especially rural ones, often work alone, with no water cooler or break room.

“It’s a significant investment in the human capital of residents in Martin County. The money being spent is really spent on investing in people so they have the tools and training to be successful small business people, whether they’re existing providers or thinking of starting their own child care business,” Snyder said.

Snyder said this is not intended to be a one and done thing. Rather this is the first pilot of the project, but it can be repeated as often as necessary until the needs of the county are met.

“The part of the model that we think is really exciting is that it treats child care like a business and is really intended to train people in that line of work to think and operate like small business owners,” Snyder said.

He said he is excited about it not just for Martin County, but to potentially see it replicated in other parts of the state as well.

For more information on the project, or to sign up for the free Jan. 7 session, go to www.prospermc.com.

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