KidKare: Saving families, one kid at a time
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“It saved my life.”
Over and over that is the response you get when you ask frequent users of the KidKare program at the Glenwood Springs Community Center what it means to them. The program started when the center opened back in 2001 to provide day care for people while they were using the facility. But, over the course of its first decade, it is clear that KidKare has become much more.
“For me, it was a saving grace,” said Stacy Pemberton, a nurse at Grand River Medical Center. Pemberton, who lives in New Castle and works in Rifle, started bringing her 2-year-old son, Jack, to the community center in Glenwood when he turned one. At first, she primarily came so she could work out and train for the triathlons she enjoys competing in. But, Pemberton has discovered many other benefits to the arrangement.
“I’ve met other mothers and Jack has had the opportunity to be socialized,” she said. “My son was in the same building and having a great time.”
David Christie discovered KidKare shortly after moving to the area with his wife for her new job as an anesthesiologist at Valley View Hospital.
“We really didn’t understand how hard it could be for parents to find help with their kids,” Christie said, explaining that his son, Damian, was put on the waiting list for everything. Up until the move, Damian had been with his parents or grandparents, so Christie was concerned with how he would do in a day care setting.
“The second time we came in, they were welcoming him by name,” Christie said. Two years later, he attends pre-school at the hospital, but he still begs his dad to go back to the community center for KidKare.
“It’s hard to imagine Glenwood Springs without the Community Center and KidKare,” he said.
Barbara Park remembers that time. Before the Community Center opened, she was working at Glenwood Springs High School with disabled young adults. Shortly after KidKare opened, she came on board as the recreation coordinator. She credits the job for saving her life. Park’s only son, Brandon, had just joined the military and then the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened and she feared for her son’s safety.
“When you are around little kids, you can’t help not seeing the hope, wonder and joy in the world,” she said, admitting that many of the KidKare regulars know her as the lady with the crazy hair.
When Park joined KidKare, it was a one room facility. Days went by without any kids using KidKare. In the seven years since she took over, the program has had to add a room and, at times, incorporate a waiting list.
“I am very thankful to be offering a program where parents feel safe leaving their kids so they can get that stress relief,” Park said.
After Angie Allee was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma, KidKare became particularly important to her husband, Jamie, and their three kids. While Ryan, 8, and Bergen, 6, were in school, Bridget, 2, spent a lot of time at KidKare.
“At a time when everything was upside down and we were at the peak of worry as a family, Bridget in KidKare was a constant source of comfort,” Allee said. She went on to say Park was an angel at a time when her family really needed it.
“It was Jamie’s outlet for dealing with the stress going on at our house,” Allee said.
In addition to KidKare, Park also supervises the Fourth of July Picnic, the Community Appreciation Day, the pre-school sports activities, including Bitty Batter, Mighty Mite Soccer and Small Fry Football, and several summer pre-school activities including Water Day, the Trike and Bike Rally and the Teddy Bear Picnic.
Last year, after the Community Garden was up and running, Park decided to start a new program called Seed to Feed. The idea was that small children would learn something about gardening by tending a plot of land. Even Park was amazed at how well the program worked this past summer during its initial year. She said one day she took a group out to talk about seeds.
“Instead, we ended up finding spiders all over the gardens because that was what interested them that day,” Park explained.
The Colorado Park and Recreation Association awarded the Seed to Feed program the Columbine Award for Programming. And the Colorado Municipal League will feature an article about the program in its December edition.
Lisa McPherson’s daughter Delaney participated in Seed to Feed. She is so impressed with Park’s innovative programming that she wrote a letter in support of Park: “My daughter Delaney truly flourished in this program. At the beginning of the class she could have been described as a shy child. Each week her enthusiasm grew along with her environmental knowledge. The experiential component of tending garden coupled with the well-planned weekly lessons broadened her scope of understanding for the world around her. Being able to harvest vegetables each week was a highlight and her excitement to share this with her siblings was contagious! It was apparent that each week my shy child was beginning to blossom, much like the plants she was tending.”
McPherson has also used the KidKare program for her daughter while her older boys were playing hockey. She is amazed at the level of care Park’s employees provide.
“It was a warm, safe place where they could have a good time,” McPherson said.
Park also can’t say enough about her employees. Rachel Velasquez-Gacnik started working at KidKare when she was 14. Now, in her senior year at Glenwood Springs High School, she feels truly grateful for the experience.
“I like it when the kids don’t want to leave so they start crying,” she admitted.
Samantha Hurst, 18, wants to be a teacher when she gets older. She said it’s a blast playing with the kids.
“You get to know their personalities and they start to trust you,” Hurst said. “It’s really rewarding. You’re like an idol.”
Park has several other employees who regularly work the morning or afternoon sessions so kids are familiar with the people taking care of them while parents work out.
KidKare offers childcare for kids ages one to seven between the hours of 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., Monday through Friday, and 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday and Saturday mornings from 9 until 11:30 a.m.
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