Nonprofit Spotlight: Having a baby? Welcome to the child-care squeeze
Post Independent Correspondent
The staff and board of Blue Lake and Little Blue preschools will host their 13th annual community fundraiser from 6-10 p.m. Friday, April 7, at The Orchard in Carbondale. Tickets are $25 presale or $30 at the door, and the event will feature food from nearly 30 local caterers and restaurants plus music, dancing, games, prizes and a silent auction with date night packages for couples.
Any Garfield County parent will tell you: It can be tough to find child care in our area. With a booming population of young families, communities have struggled to keep up with the demand for affordable, quality services, especially for infants and toddlers.
“You’ll often hear parents tell each other, ‘Oh, you’re having a baby? Call and get on a wait list now. Or better yet, you should have called before you even knew you were pregnant,’” said Michelle Oger, only partially kidding. As the executive director of Blue Lake Preschool and a working mother of three, she is intimately familiar with the struggles parents often face when seeking care for their children.
“There is just a huge need for full-day, year-round child care throughout the valley,” she said. “We currently have a three-year waiting list just for our infant program at Blue Lake, which most new families find unbelievable. They show up, take a tour and tell us they’re ready to bring their kids the next week — but we just can’t help them that quickly. As a mom who works full time myself, I really feel for these parents, especially those new to the valley who expect to be able to find care easily but can’t.”
Oger said that although Blue Lake Preschool is near El Jebel and its newer satellite school, Little Blue Preschool in Carbondale, are both at full capacity with lengthy waiting lists, the two locations strive to accommodate as many families as possible.
“We’ve got about 217 families waiting right now,” she said. “We’re licensed to care for 139 kids between our two locations. We would love to expand, open more locations to help more families, but right now we’re doing the best with what we’ve got.”
Opened as a private operation in 1993, Blue Lake Preschool eventually became a board-governed 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2000. It includes an infant room, two toddler rooms, two preschool rooms and a school-age program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The school-age program includes pick-ups from five area elementary schools, plus transportation to various after-school activities. Little Blue Preschool opened in December 2015 and offers a preschool room and toddler and infant rooms.
“Little Blue is currently the only center in Carbondale with infant care,” Oger noted. “When it opened, many of our Carbondale families transferred there and were no longer having to commute to Blue Lake to drop their kids off. That freed up a lot of space in Blue Lake for new kids.”
Oger reported that about half of Blue Lake and Little Blue students live in Carbondale, but that many travel from Old Snowmass, Redstone, Glenwood, New Castle and even Rifle as their parents drive across the Colorado and Roaring Fork valleys for work each day. Both locations are open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and provide care throughout the summer and during other time periods when the public schools are closed.
“We try to make things educational but fun and engaging for the kids throughout the entire year, so that it’s not just about sitting in school five days a week but getting out and learning and doing,” Oger said. “We offer field trips for preschool on up, with visits to places like Rock Bottom Ranch or CARE [Colorado Animal Rescue], plus other programs for gymnastics, hockey, rock climbing, soccer and other activities.”
Oger noted that the schools also strive for a high level of parental involvement through family events and midday emails, which are sent with photos and the day’s activity details.
“Our parents love the amount of communication we provide,” she added. “The best positive feedback we could receive is a referral or word-of-mouth recommendation, and that’s how most of our families come to us.”
When she considers the bigger picture of the role that Blue Lake and Little Blue preschools play in the valley, Oger noted that she believes quality child care for our youngest residents is a crucial element of the community’s foundation.
“Some don’t consider preschool to be very important, but early childhood education is vital to the health of a community,” she said. “Not only from a workplace standpoint — helping moms and dads be able to work full time — but preparing children for kindergarten and life in general at a very young age. The research is there, and the data shows that the more that’s invested in early education, the better the outcomes are later in life. It’s about helping create better learners and citizens.”
“We rely on grant funding and fundraisers to help make up the difference between what we charge families and what it actually costs to run our programs, and our fundraiser seems to be more popular every year,” Oger said of the upcoming annual event on April 7. “This is a small valley, and it’s a great way to show support for our youngest members starting out on the right foot.”
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