Care House Learning Center – Caring For Families in a Cost-Effective Way 

Care House-Reading to Kids

Kenzie Emerson, co-director of the Care House Learning Center, reads to students during last year’s Read Across America Week. She is dressed as Thing One from Dr. Seuss. (Courtesy photo) 

 

By Gaye Bunderson 

The Care House Learning Center at Nampa First Church of the Nazarene is a lesson in what’s possible when people pull together – and when people and churches combine their efforts to benefit a community. The center’s co-founders, Rebekah Grindstaff and Kenzie Emerson, are Northwest Nazarene University graduates, and both are firsthand familiar with the challenges families and children may face. 

Grindstaff earned a Bachelor’s degree in communication science from NNU in 2015 and a Master’s degree in business from West Texas A&M in 2020. She worked as an “advocate coordinator” with the 4th Judicial District Guardian ad Litem program and oversaw both its new volunteer training program and about 30 volunteer guardians ad litem who worked with children. Guardians ad litems serve as court-appointed advocates for minors who end up in the legal system in such circumstances as child custody or child support cases. Her next position was as the program director for Faces of Hope, a nonprofit in Ada County that serves those who have experienced interpersonal violence such as sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, etc. 

Emerson earned a Bachelor’s degree in social work from NNU in 2018 and has been a certified child care director since 2022. She also worked as a guardian ad litem. 

Both women stated that, in their work over the years, they saw parents who lost their children to foster care despite the fact they loved their young ones. The challenges the parents faced were often financial: they couldn’t adequately support themselves or their offspring. One of their biggest problems was a lack of cost-effective but good, safe child care. 

Grindstaff stated, “When I was working with foster kids and families where there had been abuse, if you were a victim of abuse, you had to ask, ‘How do I find child care?’ because those people are often taken away from their safety nets, including friends and other family members. They have likely left an abusive spouse, have insufficient means of support, and must find a job as well as child care. They are asking impossible questions.” 

The biggest barriers to adequate child care are the fees and the wait lists. 

Emerson worked in child care and was an assistant teacher at a local center. “The main thing I saw was that the center didn’t have the capabilities to accept kids who actually needed care,” she said. 

The women, who are close friends, started brainstorming and asking, “Is there a way we can give parents more access to day care and make it more affordable?” 

“We did research. We didn’t want to duplicate what others had tried or what was already out there,” Grindstaff said. 

“We’re Type A people and like to have everything prepared,” Emerson said. 

They drew up a business plan and talked with other organizations to acquire all the knowledge they could. They visited a child care center in Boise called Giraffe Laugh and learned from that model, where about 50% of client families are above the poverty line and 50% are below it. 

As they were doing their research and organizing their plans around the required legal and other steps, people at Nampa First Church of the Nazarene where the women are part of the congregation got wind of their efforts. Church staff and board members thought they could team up with Grindstaff and Emerson and in doing so also help others. 

Emerson went to the church board, and members approved opening the center in the church itself. “We could run the center out of the church and they’d be a partner,” she said. 

Said Grindstaff, “We’ve been a 501(c)(3) for two years and opened at the church one year ago. We can’t say enough about all they’ve done for us.” 

The child care was given the name Care House Learning Center in conjunction with the church’s Care House Partnerships program and its Nazarene Compassionate Ministry. The partnership allows CHLC to keep costs low and pass the savings on to families. Also, the name defines emphases on early childhood education and ensuring school readiness for the children in the program. 

On how they are meeting their funding needs, Grindstaff said, “We have donors all across the U.S. We also get grant funding, and it all helps us with our sliding scale fees.” 

In other words, the program helps families where they’re at financially. Both parents and their children reap the benefits of affordability, safety, and the opportunity to learn. 

Also, people who work at the child care center are afforded financial respect as well. 

“I’m very passionate about fair wages,” Emerson said. After being an employee in the child care field herself, she learned, “Child care workers don’t get paid nearly enough for what they’re doing.” 

She cited examples from five years ago, and currently, in the local Nampa area. 

“Five years ago, the pay scale for lead teachers was $10 an hour. It has since risen to $11 to $12.” 

It’s still a low wage and has not kept pace with inflation – “and these people are in a manager type of role,” Emerson stated. 

“Assistant teachers earned an average of $8 an hour five years ago,” she said. And while that’s increased somewhat, it’s still dismal. 

Emerson pointed out that child care workers are educated in early childhood learning through  IdahoSTARS, a project that provides “training in child development, education, health, safety and assessment of child care facilities based on national quality standards” (information taken from idahostars.org). They must also stay up-to-date on best practices. 

“I knew I could not pay our teachers less than a living wage with a clear conscience,” Emerson said. “We also wanted to provide benefits, such as paid time off and paid vacation.” 

The women have managed to achieve these goals but still have concerns about the high inflation rate everyone must currently deal with. 

The pair also feels that the value of early learning cannot be overstated, making the need for accessible child care even more essential as a matter of fairness to all kids. Grindstaff explained, “The way the education system is set up, we as a society don’t start investing in children until they walk through the doors at kindergarten.” 

That leaves some children at a disadvantage if they haven’t had the necessary exposure to learning before they enter the kindergarten classroom. 

“They need to have ‘kindergarten readiness’,” Emerson said. “They need to be emotionally ready, socially ready, and educationally ready.” 

The social and emotional part involves such things as how to share. “Teaching them to play and interact with other kids and learn what the social norms are,” Emerson explained. 

Early learning is not just important for children when they’re young but also as they grow and mature. 

“There are life-long benefits of early childhood learning, and studies have shown that children who receive it are less likely to interact with law enforcement; less likely to be on welfare; more likely to graduate high school and pursue higher education; and have higher earnings as a result,” Grindstaff stated. 

Parents who wish to enroll their youngsters at Care House Learning Center need to fill out an online application form at carehouselearningcenter.com. “From there,” said Grindstaff, “we talk with them, find out their needs, and see if we can meet those needs. We see if there is a sliding scale spot available, and, if we have the spot, we accept the children.” 

She then said, in reference to the child care, the church, and the surrounding neighborhood, “Here, we ‘live into’ our families. It’s been a real blessing. We live in the community as a part of the community. We get to know each other. We cry with each other, and we celebrate with each other.” 

There is no faith requirement to be accepted at the child care center, and Grindstaff explained, “There’s a mix of families. We’re faith-based, and we adhere to faith-based concepts. We welcome all of our families, and we try to be an example. For instance, we pray a simple prayer before we eat.” 

One little girl was so enamored of the pre-meal prayer, Emerson said, that when her mother came to pick her up, she wanted to share the prayer with her mom and to show her how to pray over the food and the words to use. 

Both Grindstaff and Emerson are married and have children. Grindstaff and her husband had thought they would not be able to have children, so she calls the year-old son they were blessed with “a little miracle.” Emerson and her husband have a 4-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter. 

The women are co-directors at CHLC, but each wears another title. Grindstaff, who is 29, is Director of Development and Operations. Emerson, 27, is Director of Child Care. 

Both women love what they do and, as Emerson put it, “I have always known I need to be helping and working with children. This is apparent. This is where I’m supposed to be.” 

 

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