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Parents upset by day care closing

Space shortage led to church’s decision

Staff writer

When Mandi Bernhardt of Hillsboro heard rumors Kids Connection day care would close May 27, she quickly felt a range of emotions.

“First of all I was completely shocked,” she said Monday.

Then she became angry that she had to find out by word-of-mouth and that she had so little time to make other plans. She also felt sad for her daughter, 2½-year-old Bradi, and son, 7½-year-old Blane. Bradi attends day care at Kids Connection every day, and Blane attends during summers.

Part of Bernhardt’s frustration is related to how good the programs at Kids Connection are.

“It was an awesome program, that’s why we’re so devastated as parents,” she said. “I have had nothing but good experiences with that place.”

Tina Boese of Goessel felt the same way. Her daughter, 3-year-old Allison, attends the Hillsboro day care.

“She loves it,” Boese said. “She has a ton of friends and loves the teachers.”

Allison has food allergies, Boese said, and the staff has done an excellent job accommodating her allergies while still providing a variety of food.

Boese said she felt like Allison was kicked to the curb by the church.

“I don’t feel important,” she said. “My child, she isn’t important to them.”

Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church included space for a day care facility in plans for the new church, and Kids Connection opened in August 2008. The church’s goals for the program were to provide day care for underprivileged families in the community, Church Moderator Bob Loewen said. Church moderator is a position similar to church council president.

The church created Kids Connection as a private not-for-profit corporation, with a board appointed by the church council. The church also provided funding for Kids Connection as a line-item in the annual budget.

Each year the church conducts evaluations of its ministries, and this year’s evaluation determined Kids Connection was competing for space with other church ministries, namely Sunday school and Wednesday Bible classes, Loewen said.

Sunday school and Wednesday Bible class attendance has risen considerably since the new church was built, Loewen said.

“It’s a space conflict,” he said. “I think it’s been a conflict that has been hard for both groups to work through.

“It’s really kind of tough to have two totally separate entities occupying the same space,” Loewen said. “I think it’s safe to say if we had that additional space to house both, you and I wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Bernhardt said she thought parents and Kids Connection staff could have worked on the problems if they had known about them.

“These are problems that could have been fixed,” she said.

Loewen said the line-item in the budget for Kids Connection wasn’t viewed negatively by the congregation.

“It’s a consideration, but it’s not a leading factor in this,” he said.

Church officials let Kids Connection staff know about a week in advance that there would be a vote by the congregation vote March 27 on whether to continue to provide space for the day care center. Votes were tabulated March 28, and letters were sent to families March 29.

The church had a follow-up meeting for the congregation Sunday, and Kids Connection board members spoke with parents of Kids Connection attendees was Monday.

Bernhardt said most parents of Kids Connection attendees attended the meeting, and nearly all of them had questions and comments.

“It was a very emotional time,” Bernhardt said. “There was a lot of anger, a lot of questions that went unanswered because they didn’t know the answers.”

Board members said an extension might be possible while the community looks to establish another day care center, Bernhardt said. Specifics weren’t available, though. Another option was restructuring the day care, but board members couldn’t specify what that would entail.

“We left more mad than when we walked in the doors,” Bernhardt said.

Kids Connection Director Tracy Hefley learned about the decision March 28.

She said the news made her feel “shocked, sick to my stomach. I’m still a little in shock because there was no warning.”

Hefley said she knew it was under consideration the week before. Now she is concerned about what will happen to the approximately 65 children who attend day care and preschool at Kids Connection.

“I don’t know where they’re going to go,” she said.

Hillsboro doesn’t have enough home day cares to accept that many children, and the only other preschool is Head Start, which is limited to low-income families, Boese said.

“I’m lucky enough to have some people who can help me for a while,” Boese said. “But I know some other people who are going to have to scramble.”

She said she wasn’t looking forward to separating Allison from the Kids Connection staff, which she described as stable and reliable.

“That’s really important for a child to have that continuity,” Boese said.

Loewen said the church is interested in working with other groups in establishing another day care center in town.

“The need in this community is huge,” Loewen said. “In this decision, we have not lost track of that.”

Hefley said she is hopeful a new day care center can be opened, but two months isn’t enough time.

“I would love to help in any way I can,” Hefley said.

Last modified April 7, 2011

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