Child Care Network celebrating 30th year; event set for Thursday night

From Day 1, the mission has been to improve the lives of children.

Through the Kids Klub, Jackson County Guardian Ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocates and preschool programs, providing community resources and partnerships for child-related issues and organizing the popular Kids Fest event, Child Care Network Inc. accomplishes that mission.

“That is very broad, and so we can find our way to fit in where it’s needed in the community,” said Kate Garrity, who has served as executive director since 2015. “It’s a challenge but also an opportunity. It’s hard to tell people who we are because there’s Kids Klub, there’s preschool and there’s CASA, so it takes a lot to explain who we are, but I like that because we can fit in where it works in the community.”

June 27 marks the 30th anniversary of the organization’s establishment.

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An event is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday upstairs at Rails Craft Brew and Eatery, 114 St. Louis Ave., Seymour, to give the public a chance to learn more about the organization. Heavy appetizers and cake will be served.

Former board member Barb Decker will speak about the agency’s history, Jackson Superior Court II Judge Bruce MacTavish will talk about CASA, Dan Davis will explain what On My Way Pre-K means to the community and Garrity will share the future plans of Child Care Network.

“We’re trying to focus on the history but then also where are we going from here,” Garrity said.

Start of an agency

In 1988, local residents pursued corporate interest and support for latchkey child care, a safe place for kids to go after school.

Then in 1989, the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce conducted a child care survey of parents of school-age children to validate interest in before- and after-school child care. A seven-member Day Care Task Force also was established.

From there, the organization was incorporated, Seymour Area Daycare was renamed Child Care Network and it was contracted by the Indiana Department of Education to serve as a Child and Adult Care Food Program sponsor.

Child Care Network was granted 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status in 1990.

Join the klub

That same year, Kids Klub was established within Seymour-Redding and Seymour-Jackson elementary schools, providing before- and after-school child care for children ages 5 to 12.

As of May, Kids Klub had 221 students enrolled at seven sites, including Seymour Community Schools, Immanuel Lutheran School and Brownstown Elementary School. Plus, a summer program is offered from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. within a Seymour elementary.

“Our summer program right now, it’s the biggest it has ever been,” Garrity said. “It just continues to grow and grow.”

Kids Klub is a good option for children because it helps working parents. Recently, Garrity said she talked to a parent who was moving to the county and was going to be working long hours at a factory.

“I was able to say, ‘We’re able to combine Kids Klub with preschool, so we can get you 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. care,'” Garrity said. “We don’t directly work with the adults, but we help them maintain their jobs because they don’t have to worry about their kids. Their kids are there, and they can stay at their school and be safe.”

In 1998, Child Care Network was awarded Indiana Bureau of Child Development contracts for Child Care Resource and Referral.

“We were where people could go to find out about child care,” Garrity said. “We offered training for local child care providers and had resources that they could check out and use.”

Garrity said the administrative office at the Community Agency Building in downtown Seymour receives approximately 30 phone calls per month about specific child-related issues.

“We’ll get phone calls every day, ‘I need child care for my 2-year-old,’ so we’re able to steer them in the right direction to Child Care Resource and Referral and say, ‘They can give you a list of everybody that’s available. Here’s the number to call to get child care vouchers, to get help paying for it,'” Garrity said.

The agency is happy to serve as a community resource, she said.

“We don’t ever answer the phone and just say, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you,'” she said. “We try to always steer them in the right direction. If it’s not something that we can do, we try to steer people to who can help them.”

Kids Fest, preschool added

In 1998, Kids Fest was formed through a Leadership Jackson County project. The annual “Day of the Young Child” celebration is coordinated by Child Care Network and funded by community donations.

The purpose of Kids Fest is to gather a crowd, mostly of families with younger children; inform and link parents, guardians and custodians to children’s services, programs and activities in Jackson County; and enhance the well-being and lives of Jackson County’s children.

Child Care Network had offered infant and toddler programs in the county over the years, and then in 2005, the Family Preschool program was established at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour.

It remained there until moving to Seymour-Jackson Elementary School in 2012. That year, a Family Preschool program also started at Medora Elementary School.

The Community Foundation of Jackson County created the Jackson County Education Coalition in 2013, and that provided funding for Family Preschool that school year.

Then in 2014, the coalition presented $30,000 to Crothersville and Medora schools and $100,000 to Seymour Community School Corp. for preschool programs, and the Family Preschool programs dissolved.

Jackson County received On My Way Pre-K funding in 2015, and the state-funded prekindergarten program has provided the benefits of early childhood education to Hoosier children from low-income families ever since. That has expanded from five counties to 20.

In 2016, Child Care Network expanded preschool to full-day classrooms at Seymour-Redding and Emerson elementary schools and half-day at Brown. The next year, preschool and Kids Klub started at Brownstown Elementary School.

Voice for kids

Child Care Network also takes pride in serving as the administrator of the Jackson County GAL/CASA program.

The county had been involved with a multicounty agency in Columbus, Advocates for Children, until branching out on its own in 2010.

“Judge MacTavish felt very strongly that Jackson County needed its own office, and so he went to the United Way office and just said, ‘What can we do about this?'” Garrity said. “That’s how he got to Child Care Network.”

The Jackson County Council provided startup funding for the program, and an office opened.

Volunteers are recruited and trained to serve as a CASA in the courts, as they are the voice of children in need during court hearings, parental rights processes and final placement determinations.

As of May, CASA had 86 children being served by 39 active volunteers (five are on leave or are between cases) and one staff advocate.

“There were 30 children on the waiting list, so CASA is serving 74.1% of the children in the county that need a CASA,” Garrity said.

In hopes of expanding all of its programs, Child Care Network has worked this year to raise $30,000 for its 30th anniversary. Garrity said she hoped to have that accomplished by Thursday.

“I don’t think we’ll have it completely by then, but we’re close,” she said.

Child Care Network had each program come up with a wish list of how it would spend $10,000.

GAL/CASA would obtain more volunteers and serve more children. Kids Klub would purchase supplies for the after-school program and bringing in experts to talk to the kids. Experts also would visit with preschoolers, and money may be used for technology purchases in the classrooms, too.

“I always say they are the ones that do the work, I’m the one that just tells people about it,” Garrity said. “We wanted to get our staff involved because they are there every day: How would this money benefit you the most? How can we expand your program?”

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What: Child Care Network 30th anniversary celebration

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Upstairs at Rails Craft Brew and Eatery, 114 St. Louis Ave., Seymour

Why: To give the public a chance to learn more about the organization

Cost: Free; heavy appetizers and cake will be served